Just a few short weeks ago, I was podcasting with Laura and complaining about the PTO’s awful search engine and database front-end. If you’ve ever had to navigate the PTO website, I already know that you’re in agreement. It should be no surprise then that I’m a huge advocate of avoiding the PTO website like the plague. That’s why I try to use Google Patents search whenever possible.
So when I was contacted by Banner & Witcoff to review their patent and trademark search app, I was excited, then mildly disappointed, then excited again. I was initially excited because I was hoping they would do for patent/trademark search what Fastcase did for mobile research. The disappointment came when I realized that their program doesn’t tap into the PTO’s database, but rather relies on Google Patents search results. I later found out after speaking with Ross Dannenberg (one of the B&W associates leading development of the app) that the PTO doesn’t allow third parties to tap into their patent API. Unfortunate, but not much (legally) can be done about that. So B&W did the best they could and tapped into Google Patents’ resources — can’t fault them for that.
The second round of excitement came when I realized that B&W did a pretty darn good job at giving us a comfortable interface for mobile navigation and search of patents and trademarks. The very first question I asked Dannenberg when we spoke was, “Why should people use your app rather than the Google Patents website?” (Yes, I’ve apparently become that blunt in my old age.) The response was both thoughtful and reasonable: “Have you ever tried to use Google Patents on your iPhone?” Touché.
Aesthetics / Usability
When you load up the app, you can select whether you want to search patents, trademarks, or browse IP resources. As you might expect, the search can be as broad or as narrow as you want. You can search by patent number, inventors, assignee, etc. It seems that most (if not all) of the advanced search options of Google Patents are present by default within the app.
Once you find the patent you’re looking for, you can either browse it plaintext or download and view the PDF (if available) from Google right inside the app. The down side here is that the application was created prior to iBooks, so there’s no functionality to save the PDF to your iPhone or import it into iBooks. It seems that it’s lost in the aether once the app is closed. That’s unfortunate because it would be great to load up on patents before heading out to somewhere without a 3G connection. On the bright side, B&W is aware that this would be a valuable feature, and hopefully an update will be forthcoming.
One of the cooler features is that the app parses assignments and will display them right within the app (in a separate tab).
The trademark functionality works in almost exactly the same way, except that rather than coming from Google, the trademark data comes right from the PTO. The trademark search is clean and fast, and once you select the mark you’re looking for, it’s displayed on your screen as seen to the left. One great feature is that you can mail this data to yourself from within the app. So if you need to include the mark within a brief or a memo, you can just extract it from your email rather than having to search for it again when you get to your PC.
Aesthetically, the app isn’t terribly impressive. I’m not sure whether it was released prior to the iPhone 4, but don’t expect to see retina display quality graphics. None of the interface has really been customized, and the developers basically just used the default GUI elements from the SDK kit. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since it may actually help the interface stay intuitive, but I can’t really call it “beautiful.”
If you need to search patents or trademarks on-the-go, this is definitely the way to do it. It’s fast, the GUI is relatively user-friendly, and it’s free.
If YOU have a law-related app or program that you’d like to see reviewed on Legal Geekery, or you’d like to provide us with some giveaway keys for your paid law-related app or program, get in touch with us at legalgeekery /at/ gmail /dot/ com.