How to do a toteboard search?

Hello readers and colleagues.  Within a few weeks, based on numbers reported by you, we will be posting the 2022 toteboards.  This includes the following:

    • The Eighth Annual utility patent toteboard.
    • The Eleventh Annual design patent toteboard.
    • The Fourth Annual  plant patent toteboard.

For ten years now, it has been quite easy to do a search in the US Patent Full-Text Database to get numbers that you could send in for the toteboards.  But now in 2023, such searches are nearly impossible.  This blog article tries to help a little with doing such searches in 2023.    An example of a search string that you could enter a year ago is:

apt/6 and (lrep/oppedahl or lrep/oppendahl) and isd/$/$/2022

The field “apt” meant “application type”.  The application might be 1 for utility patents, or 4 for design patents, or 6 for plant patents.  The field “lrep” meant “legal representative”.  The field “isd” meant “issue date.

But the USPTO scrapped the US Patent Full-Text Database a few months ago.  The system that the USPTO offers as a supposed replacement is Patent Public Search or PPS.

It looks like whoever designed PPS was somebody whose computer screen is the approximate size of a highway billboard.  This person clearly gave not a moment’s thought to the notion that anybody might have a normal sized computer screen.  When I try to use PPS with the screen on my notebook computer, I literally cannot find a place to type in a search string.  I have to resize part of the upper left corner of the PPS screen merely to create a tiny field into which to try to shoehorn a search string.  Having done this resizing, then the place at the lower left corner of the PPS screen, which is where the list of search results might appear, is necessarily so small that it is impossible to see anything about the number of “hits” resulting from the search.

When I struggle to do a simple search in PPS, I find myself constantly having to make parts of the screen bigger or smaller again and again and again.

There are many other things about the design of PPS that I find unacceptable and unusable.  Not only that, I find the “help” resources in PPS to be wholly inadequate and poorly designed.

What I have heard is that PPS is the result of putting lipstick on a pig.  The pig that received the lipstick is the internal patent search system (called PubEAST and PubWEST) that members of the USPTO Examining Corps use to do their prior-art searching.  This pig was, I guess, designed from the outset specifically for the enormous computer screens that are provided, in a standardized way, for all Examiners at the USPTO.  This pig was, I guess, optimized for the exact types of repetitive prior-art searches that Examiners do.

It is quite clear that no effort at all was made at the USPTO, when it was putting the lipstick on this pig, to see whether it would actually serve as a meaningful replacement for the kinds of searches that real fee-paying USPTO customers used to do in the US Patent Full-Text Database.

It would take two or three additional blog articles to talk through all of the things that are wrong with PPS.  Even the narrow topic of “why a search system designed specifically for Examiners is a complete failure for users who are not not Examiners but instead are paying customers” would take a complete blog article to discuss fully.

In this particular blog article I will focus narrowly on “how to try to use PPS to get numbers for the tote boards”.

One big problem with PPS is that apparently the designer of PPS skipped over the “application type” field.  As best I can see, the only way a searcher might in some approximate way narrow down a search by application type is by cobbling together some error-prone Boolean field search on the “kind code”.  The search field seems to be “.at.” but nothing in the help screens for PPS spills the beans on how you might pick kind codes to draw together, say, only issued utility patents as distinguished from mere published applications or design patents or plant patents.

Examiners do not, of course, ever care at all about who the legal representative is or might be when they are searching for a piece of prior art that mentions a framus within so many words of a clevis.  When they are trying to prove that some invention is not patentable, they do not care if the issued patent that wins this fight mentions a legal representative of law firm A or law firm B.  This helps to explain, I think, why the “user interface” (using the term loosely) for PPS does not bother at all to facilitate a search like the old “legal rep” search that was so easy to do in the now-scrapped US Patent Full-Text Database.

Bafflingly, PPS offers two different fields to search that seem to vaguely correspond to the old “legal rep” field.  The two new fields are “dot ATT dot” and “dot ATTY dot”.  The former supposedly means “firm” and the latter supposedly means “attorney”.  But see below that there are also five (five!) other fields that also supposedly search on the law firm name.

Here are some kinds of search strings that some people have tried to use in PPS to generate numbers for the toteboards.  Suppose a two firms merged during 2022, namely Able & Baker firm merged with Charlie firm with the successor firm being named Able and Charlie firm.  Then a search string that might work, if you are very lucky, might be along these lines:

“2022”.py. and (able adj baker.lrfm. or baker adj charlie.lrfm. or (able and charlie).lrfm.)

Note that “adj” means “adjacent” and “and” sort of means “and”.  So for example if you were to do a search that uses “able adj baker.lrfm.” or “able and baker.lrfm.”, these are not the same thing.  Those two strings would almost surely yield non-identical results.

Another firm tried to use a search string along these lines:

(((“Plinge Patent Law”).firm. OR (“Plinge Patent Law”).inaa. OR (“Plinge Patent Law”).lrag. OR (“Plinge Patent Law”).lrnm. OR (“Plinge Patent Law”).lrfm. ) AND “2022”.py.)

This search string makes use of poorly defined fields in PPS that are described this way in the poorly written help pages of PPS:

    • dot firm dot – said to mean “Legal Firm Name”
    • dot inaa dot – said to mean “Legal Representative or Inventor”
    • dot lrag dot – said to mean “Legal Representative Name”
    • dot lrnm dot – said to mean “Legal Representative Name”
    • dot lrfm dot – said to mean “Legal Firm Name”

I spent quite some time just now in the PPS help screens and absolutely could not work out how or why a user would be able to figure out the difference between a “dot firm dot” search or a “dot lrfm dot” search.  Likewise I was unable to figure out how “dot lrag dot” is different from “dot lrnm dot”.

Note that if a firm happens to have obtained more than one type of patent in 2022 (utility and design and plant, for example) then it will not be enough merely to cobble together a firm-specific field search and intersect it with “2022”.py. .  One respondent was reduced to hand-counting the individual design and plant patents, say, in the search results, and then subtract that number from the total, and the remainder would (perhaps) be the number of utility patents.

Another deficiency in PPS is that so far as I can see, it is impossible to export the search results as a CSV file or anything else that might be fruitfully loaded into a spreadsheet.  In contrast, in the now-scrapped US Patent Full-Text Database it was possible to scrape things from the search results screen and paste them into a spreadsheet.

One firm, apparently abandoning any hope of making sense of PPS for purposes of the tote boards, used Patentcenter instead, generating a list of applications by customer number, and attempting as best they could to sort by issue date and then just counting the patents on the screen in Patentcenter.

Here is a search string that one firm used in PPS:

(plinge AND llp).att. AND @PD>=”20220101″<=20221231 NOT S.AT.

Note that this search uses a completely different way of trying to search on a range of patent issue dates.  Note too that the searcher was trying to exclude design patents from this search (kind code of “S” along with a Boolean “not” operator) to arrive at a count of utility patents.  The firm was using part of the firm name “plinge” and was also hunting for “llp” in the “dot att dot” field.

A search only for design patents might work using the kind code of “S” with a Boolean “and”:

AND S.AT.

One firm did a seach along these lines:

PLINGE AND “2022”.PY.

The person doing this search was gambling, I guess, that the name “PLINGE” would never appear in the body of a patent, or in the abstract, but instead was sufficiently unique that it would only turn up in one of the attorney-related search fields.

Best of luck to everybody trying to get PPS to work for you for the toteboards.  If you get a search to work consistently for you, please share it in the comments below.

13 Replies to “How to do a toteboard search?”

    1. Thank you for commenting. Yes, this PEDS approach could conceivably help some filers to arrive at toteboard numbers.

      In the case of our firm, it would not help much because we allocate a distinct customer number to each client and so to use this approach we would have to repeat the search for a large number of customer numbers to cover all clients that might have had a patent issue during the target time period.

      Not only that, what if a patent got transferred out after issuance happened? Such a patent would probably get a fresh customer number due to the transfer.

      This PEDS system also does not permit distinguishing by application type (design, utility, plant).

      But yes, for some filers who maintain an uncomplicated docket, this PEDS approach might work to arrive at toteboard numbers.

    1. I am pretty sure that it ran like this.

      Some bean counter at the USPTO noticed that there are two patent search systems. One (Patent FT) is easy to earn to use and works on computer screens of all sizes and it is easy to do all kinds of searches. The other (PubEAST/PubWEST) is almost impossible to learn to use except with lots of specialized training, and it works only if your computer screen is the size of a billboard, and it is optimized only for the particular types of searches that Examiners carry out a dozen times a day. The bean counter says “let’s save some money by shutting down the one that customers use (Patent FT) and force the customers to switch over to the one that Examiners use (renamed PPS).”

      Oh and then the last bit is the gaslighting that the USPTO did when it forced this change upon the customers. The USPTO spun this unwanted change using these words: the PPS system “provides more convenient, remote, and robust full-text searching of all U.S. patents and published patent applications.” I guess just saying it makes it so.

  1. Hello. We omitted excluding plants in our search string because our firm does not file plant patents. However, in case it helps anyone, I believe these search strings would pull up individual results for utility, design, and plant patents:
    Utility: (plinge AND llp).att. AND @PD>=”20220101″=”20220101″=”20220101″<=20221231 AND P.AT.
    *Note, if you encounter a quotes error, it just means the characters copied over incorrectly. I.e., just delete the quotes in the search string and re-add them. Good luck everyone!

    1. Thank you so much for commenting.

      It sure looks like your date filter is unnecessarily complicated.

      But anyway, thank you for commenting.

    2. Sorry it seems the comment box converted my formulas as HTML code and ended up omitting some text in my comment so the formulas are distorted/missing. Not sure if I can email it to you? Essentially to search Utility only, just add at the end of the string “NOT S.AT. NOT P.AT.” To search Design only, use “AND S.AT.” and to search Plant only, use “AND P.AT.”

  2. “This search string makes use of poorly defined fields in PPS that are described this way in the poorly written help pages of PPS” — Agreed. My experience is that different fields are filled out for different publications. My untested guess is that it may depend on the original database that the patents were stored in, because it seems at least partially based on age. (btw, yes, I cobbled together that search string before leaving work yesterday).

    On another note, it seems that the PPS evaluates each “AND” statement independently before combining — I couldn’t use text searches that looked for “11$.pn.”, for example, because I got an error that there were more than 20k results. I tried putting that part of the query after a name search to reduce the number of possible results, but order didn’t seem to matter.

  3. Does anyone know if there is a way to view the “Search Help” tab outside of PPS, the way you can in TESS? I’d like to open, in a separate window, the possible boolean options from which to construct a search. If I hover on a link, copy the URL, and paste it into a separate window, I get a helpful “Patent Public Search Console is already open.”

    1. Thank you for commenting. As best I can tell the answer is “no”. PPS is stubbornly not “restful” (Wikipedia article), meaning among other things that is impossible to (for example) right-click to open a link in a separate window.

      Well designed web pages are restful. Poorly designed web pages fail to be restful. PPS is, on this measure, poorly designed. There are a dozen other ways as well that it is poorly designed.

  4. Carl,

    Might I recommend trying freepatentsonline.com ? Use the “Expert Search” option.

    They have a complete set of US patents and applications as well as PCT publications. The field codes are similar to the old USPTO engine, and they have some extra “hidden” operators and field codes that are not listed.

    For instance NEAR# works instead of the ~ character they show in their listing and ADJ works, too.
    They have some useful but hidden date string syntax available:
    ISD/[1/1/2022 TO 12/31/2022] ( the square brackets are imperative to make this work)

    You can also do math with the date strings as described on the FPO advanced search page. Things like ;
    [NOW-1MONTH TO NOW]
    [NOW-20YEAR TO NOW]
    [* TO NOW]
    Unfortunately, they no longer support their help file, so don’t go looking for much documentation.

    For classifications,
    CPC/ is an active field code
    ICL/ combines the IPC and IPCR results

    Still more hidden features:
    TAC/ title abstract claims
    ICLM/ independent claims
    TA/ title and abstract
    ANC/ Current assignee

    The one thing I dislike is having to click on each document returned to review it. That’s why I subscribe to a commercial database. But for free searching, it is hard to beat.

    Full Disclosure: I am not affiliated with them!

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