THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

19 October 2018

IP Corner: Happy 20th Anniversary Espacenet

When I first began working at the British Library patent searching was very much a manual process which involved using a Catchword Index to find your patent classification, then looking that classification up in the accompanying Classification index to get the relevant subclass and finally, looking the classification and sub-classification up on microfiche to find any relevant patents. It was a fairly labour intensive and time consuming process, but it worked.

Then in 1998 the European Patent Office launched their free search database called Espacenet. Espacenet revolutionised patent searching for the ordinary ‘man on the street’. If they had access to a computer, either at home or more often through their local library, they were able to carry out patent searching using keywords or names or numbers or dates or all of them together.

Espacenet was however kind of a two edged sword, since without any experience of patent searching it was (and still is) possible to convince oneself that your invention was new and innovative because you did not find it when in fact you were simply using incorrect keywords.

The Business & IP Centre's Introduction to patent searching workshop takes delegates through the Espacenet database explaining the searching process and providing hints and tips on how to get the best from the database. Personally, I’ve lost count of the number of inventors I have helped learn how to use Espacenet effectively, preventing some from wasting time and money pursuing an idea that already exists and helping others start on the road to protecting and producing their new product.

If you can’t make one of our workshops you can download one of our IP guides, which are free to access.

In the last twenty years Espacenet has grown from a basic search database to a database that can be used to search worldwide through 100 million documents, both published patent application and granted patents, from over 90 patent granting authorities. Searchers can now check legal status of patents, find out if patents are still in force using the European Patent Register and gain immediate access to the application files or ‘file wrappers’ from the world's largest patent offices using the Global Dossier. Full copies of patent specifications can be downloaded onto a hard-drive, or printed out if preferred, for later consultation by the searcher.

Espacenet is one of my favourite search databases mainly because it costs nothing to use but also because it empowers new inventors by helping them gain an understanding of patents, patent classifications and patent searching so that they can have informed conversations and make better decisions regarding their proposed inventions.

Happy 20th Anniversary Espacenet. Here’s to many more!

Maria Lampert, Intellectual Property Expert at the Business & IP Centre London

Maria has worked in the field of intellectual property since she joined the British Library in January 1993. She is currently the British Library Business & IP Centre’s Intellectual Property Expert, where she delivers 1-2-1 business and IP advice clinics, as well as intellectual property workshops and webinars on regular basis.

To see all upcoming workshops, webinars and events, visit our website.