USPTO Should Outsource Search To Google

The USPTO’s web interface could use a UI makeover.

Over the weekend, the USPTO added a TDR link to all TARR pages, making 75% of each trademark application’s USPTO URLs now accessible from the static TARR page. Did that sentence make sense? If not, then the USPTO’s trademark websites need a makeover. Here’s a screenshot of the change:

Problem 1 – Four Databases, Four UIs

If the USPTO were to hire a user interface (UI) consultant to fix the USPTO’s various website, then the first thing that the consultant would notice is that there are (at least) four separate trademark websites:

  1. TARR (Trademark Applications and Registrations Retrieval) is used for retrieving the status of pending, issued, and expired US trademarks. TARR supports static URLs. For example, the static URL for Clock Tower Law Group’s logo trademark is as follows:
    <http://tarr.uspto.gov/servlet/tarr?regser=serial&entry=78614746>
  2. TDR (Trademark Document Retrieval) is used for downloading the file wrapper (documents filed by the applicant and the USPTO’s replies) for trademark application. Static URLs are ugly but supported:
    <http://portal.uspto.gov/external/portal/tow?SRCH=Y&isSubmitted=true&details=&SELECT=US+Serial+No&TEXT=78614746>
  3. The (Unnamed) Assignments Database is used for keeping track of the ownership of trademarks. Static URLs are supported:
    <http://assignments.uspto.gov/assignments/q?db=tm&qt=sno&reel=&frame=&sno=78614746>
  4. TTABVUE (Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Inquiry System – don’t ask me what the “U” and the “E” stand for) is used for downloading documents for trademarks that have been appealed. Static URLs are supported (and note that there have been no appeals for the Clock Tower Law Group logo trademark):
    <http://ttabvue.uspto.gov/ttabvue/v?qt=adv&pno=78614746>

Problem 2 – Inconsistent/Nonexistent Full-Text Search

The second thing that the consultant would notice is that there is no centralized search for these four sites. And in some cases, no full-text search at all.

  1. TARR is searchable via TESS (Trademark Electronic Search System). But of course.
  2. TDR supports only limited searching. You can search for documents by application number, but you cannot search within documents for text. If TDR used Google for it’s search engine, then you could search for “likelihood of confusion” to find trademark applications where that phrase was mentioned, but no text search exists within TDR. And TDR is not indexed by Google. So it’s nearly useless.
  3. TTABVUE support searching for words anywhere in a record.
  4. The (Unnamed) Trademark Database supports limited searching (like TDR).

Problem 3 – Poor Names

The third thing that the consultant would notice is poor naming. (Which is ironic for the Trademark Office, don’t you think?) “TDR” is shorter than “Trademark Document Retrieval,” but nether name does a good job of describing what the system actually is. I’m imagining a Google-like UI with four simple tabs and better names like these:

  1. Status – This is what TARR does. Pulls status from other databases and presents it in a simple one-page format.
  2. Application – TDR documents the trademark application process between the applicant and the USPTO examiner.
  3. Ownership – A much better name than “The (Unnamed) Assignments Database.”
  4. Appeals – A much better name than TTABVUE (TTABVIEW?).

The Trademark Office Should Hire Google

Much has been made about how Google indexed the patents database in December 2006. I don’t think I have to tell you that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Google should add the other patent websites to its index (such as the published patent applications database (APPFT)). And the patent bar should lobby for the USPTO to restore static patent URLs so that Google can index public patent application documents (which are now hidden from search engines with non-static URLs in the public PAIR system). Static URLs for patent documents were unceremoniously eliminated by the USPTO in May 2007. (I protested. Some other bloggers blogged. But the patent bar in general appeared not to care.)

The Trademark Office is about five years ahead of the Patent Office in terms of automation and electronic filing (e.g. the Trademark Office supports static URLs, the Patent Office does not). But the Trademark Office is about ten years behind the Internet’s worst search engine in terms of ease of use.

I’m always amazed at how the USPTO’s public-facing web pages change with little or no public notice or input. This latest change is a baby step in the right direction, but it happened in a vacuum. Can you imagine if Google launched v17 (or whatever version they’re on) of their search user interface without telling anyone? That’s what the USPTO routinely does.

Dear USPTO: Don’t outsource patent searching to private patent searchers or foreign patent offices. Outsource your search engine to Google 1997.

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One Reply to “USPTO Should Outsource Search To Google”

  1. Hear hear. The SEC’s Edgar database needs the same treatment. TARR at least allows for sophisticated searches. Edgar doesn’t at all- one has to pay outside search companies to get at data meaningfully. I hope the SEC at least get decent revenue from the search companies for it- though I’d much rather see the database open up completely.

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