“Like any new technology, the PPS can take some getting used to—but once you get the hang of it, it can make your life much easier.”
Do you want a simple way to search for specific patents and to get PDF copies of those patents? And do you want those PDF files to come straight from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), so you can be confident that they contain any Certificates of Correction? Our first article in a series about the USPTO’s Public Patent Search (PPS) web page shows you how.
PPS launched on December 1, 2021. It’s critical to get to know PPS now—especially if you want to get access to PDF copies of patents, because the USPTO removed the only other remaining method to get PDFs from their site just last month. Like any new technology, it can take some getting used to—but once you get the hang of it, it can make your life much easier. This short how-to article explains the essentials of using PPS to find and download specific patents and how to deal with the unique idiosyncrasies of PPS’s text versions of patents.
PPS is essential because it offers certainty. You can’t do a proper review of a patent without an up-to-date copy. That includes certificates of correction, if any, and reissue certificates, if any. But conventional sources of PDFs, such as the free Google Advanced Patents or commercial services like Questel, may provide stale PDFs that omit certificates. Getting your PDFs straight from the USPTO avoids this problem. Patents issue on Tuesdays, and in our experience, the USPTO’s PDFs (discussed below) are available on the issue date, by noon ET.
The PPS landing page is below. Unlike conventional web pages, it contains several panes. The default is for the panes to be arranged in different areas of the page. The Search pane on the top left is for—you guessed it—searching. The Search Results pane appears on the bottom left, and the Document Viewer pane appears on the right.
It is worth noting that this interface is modular. You can move a pane from one section of the page to another by dragging the pane around. You can also stretch or shrink a pane if you need more space for a given pane. This is emphasized in the image below where the “Search” pane has been enlarged. You can also hide a pane completely by clicking the small arrow above or to the left of the section. These arrows are also emphasized in the image below.
To search for a specific patent, simply type the number in the search box and click the “pn” (patent number) button, as shown below, and click the search button. The resulting patent will appear both in the search results list pane and in the document viewer pane in text format. Alternatively, you can use this format: 7123456.pn.
Note that if you do not use the “pn” button or type “.pn.” in your search, however, your search results will contain all the patents that cite the patent you are interested in. If you just want a PDF of a specific patent, use the “pn” button. We will cover more advanced searches in later articles.
The text version of a patent can be quite useful, as discussed further below, but it also has its drawbacks. If you want to switch between the “text” view and the “image” view of the patent in the “Document Viewer” tab, you can click the first button underneath the “Document Viewer” tab showing a capital T and a camera. This is shown in the image below, with the button enlarged for emphasis.
It’s easy to get a PDF of the patent you searched for. Just click the floppy disc button, which is two buttons to the right of the image/text viewer button. This button is enlarged in the image below for emphasis. Note that the download occurs via pop-up, so if your browser disables pop-ups by default, you may need to adjust your pop-up permissions.
In our practice, we use both PDFs and text versions of files. Each version has advantages and disadvantages. PDFs are, of course, the official document, and they supply row and column numbers necessary for citations in briefing. But they are awkward to deal with—they need to be OCR’d (i.e., converted to readable text), which is an inexact and sometimes inaccurate science. Also, copying and pasting from a PDF introduces a new font and font size, and it also copies in line breaks that need to be cleaned up by hand. Text files eliminate some of those problems—they are easy to copy into briefs, without the pesky line breaks, and their language accurately reflects the associated PDF.
However, there are several problems with the text delivered by PPS. Tables and formulas are not properly represented in the text file. Also – and this is a common problem – special characters in a patent are encoded with what is called a “dot code.” For example, the figure below shows a comparison of a portion of U.S. Pat. No. 9,123,123 that contains the Greek capital theta. The symbol shows up correctly in the Image/PDF view. But in the text file, it appears as the coded symbol “.THETA.”
To help translate a text file’s coded symbols, you can use the table below, where we have tabulated the symbols we most commonly observe in PPS’s output.
And that’s it! There are many more features of this new tool, but if you’ve been following along closely, you have now mastered the basics. Stay tuned for further how-to guides to get the most out of the PPS tool.
Image Source: Deposit Photos
Image ID: 10584789