Google has announced a new offering called the Prior Art Finder
, in which it tries to help anyone find prior art on patents. When you view a patent via Google's patent database, there will now be a button you can click, which tries to take terms from the patent, and displays a variety of related info from the date that the patent was filed
The Prior Art Finder identifies key phrases from the text of the patent, combines them into a search query, and displays relevant results from Google Patents, Google Scholar, Google Books, and the rest of the web. You’ll start to see the blue “Find prior art” button on individual patent pages starting today.
What I find most interesting about this is the fact that they're dating the results of the search to anything existing prior to the date of the filing. One of the big complaints that people make when others discuss how obvious or non-novel a patent is, is that it's impossible to go back to how the world was at the time the patent was filed. This effort seems to take one step in the direction of fixing that, though the quality of the results will matter quite a bit. I do wonder how useful this tool will be in the early days (especially concerning much older patents when there wasn't nearly as much info online), but I could see how it would become much more useful in the future, as Google both improves it and
when it's searching a much larger database of knowledge and information.