The number of electronically searchable patent documents in the EPO’s main search database rose to around 53.2 million in 2005. The number of facsimile digitised documents covering patent and non-patent literature rose to 62 million, an increase of 6.7 million documents. Special efforts were made to acquire new databases in the fields of telecommunication standards and traditional knowledge. In 2005, 48 terabytes were downloaded from EPO databases by internal and external users.
In the context of bilateral co-operation with Asia, efforts were made to add ASEAN patent data to the Espacenet database, and access to Chinese technical information was significantly improved: 1.3 million Chinese patent documents were added to the EPO databases and to Espacenet, including a database of traditional Chinese medicine.
Data management and quality
The number of documents in the bibliographic master database rose by 3.4 million items.
The DOCAREA Rebuild project passed three major milestones in 2005: continuous data loading and online correction is now possible; the master classification database can handle data from offices using the new International Patent Classification (IPC); and the Office’s main search database can be updated daily (instead of weekly), enabling new patent documents to be available via the EPO’s search engine for electronic patent searching (EPOQUE) or Espacenet on the day of publication.
The EPO citation database contains information on patent and non-patent literature cited in applications and publications; it currently contains 14 million references relating to 5 million applications or publications. In 2005, quality control and correction work on 4.6 million new cited documents resulted in 314 000 manual corrections.
One of the Office’s core activities is the classification of patent documents using its own European Classification system (ECLA), an expanded version of the International Patent Classification. ECLA comprises about 130 000 classification groups to allow for fast and systematic access to search documentation in all areas of technology. It can also be used for Espacenet searches, and is distributed to external subscribers on CD-ROM.
One major activity in the classification area in 2005 was the technical implementation of IPC reform to make the EPO ready in time for the new IPC’s entry into force at the beginning of 2006.
EPOQUE is being rebuilt with a view to enhancing the system’s search capabilities and performance. In 2005 a total of 236 million documents were viewed, 25% more than in 2004, and EPOQUE had 4 950 users per month at the EPO and in member states’ patent offices.
In the year under review the Office launched a new project to develop an integrated tool that will enable a patent examiner to prepare the written opinion and the search report simultaneously. The project is now in the user interface design phase, due to be completed by the end of 2006.
On 1 April 2005 the European Publication Server became the official vehicle for the publication of European patent documents. In addition to making patent information more widely available, online publication has significantly reduced the Office’s publication costs.
During 2005, all the Office’s publications were prepared for the transition to the new XML data format. This gave rise to a number of developments, including a new version of the Mimosa user software, capable of functioning with patent information databases across the internet. The first such database will be launched by the Office in early 2006.
Espacenet was improved through a number of significant developments, including the incorporation of Japanese data into the unified worldwide database, the availability of UK, German and European data on the day of publication, and the introduction of an intelligent number search function. After many years of debate, full document downloading was finally introduced, together with robot-blocking measures designed to ensure that the greatest possible amount of the system’s capacity is available to individual users.
During 2005, Espacenet usage increased to 100 000 distinct users per week, peaking at nearly 8 million requests per day in December, and in that same month the Espacenet team was nominated “best in the public sector” at the International Online Information Awards in London.
In terms of publicly accessible data, the bibliographic collection was further extended with the integration of Algeria and the Ukraine, bringing the number of patent authorities whose data is present in Espacenet to 76. Data from Hong Kong, Slovakia and Slovenia was added to the legal status database, which at the end of 2005 covered 47 patent authorities. Moreover, improved data collection methods enabled the EPO to make legal status data from the United Kingdom, Ireland and WIPO available on the day of publication.
As part of its general strategy of supporting European industry, the Office has for many years operated a specialised helpdesk for questions relating to Japanese patent information matters.
This service was extended in 2005 so that it is now possible to provide help and advice on patent information for the entire East Asia region. With both Japanese and Chinese-speaking staff members, the service will have a particular focus on Japan and China. An agreement was also reached with the Korean Patent Office on the establishment of a helpdesk for Korean patent information in the near future.