What Are You Doing to Google Patents, Google?

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Harry McCracken /

When Larry Page became CEO of Google (again) a year ago, he declared that the company was going to put more wood behind fewer arrows — which has translated into shutting down some of its myriad side projects to focus on the big, important ones. I admire this philosophy in principle, but the more stuff that the company axes, the higher the odds that it’s going to fool around with something you love.

In my case, that day has come: Google has announced a new round of closures, cutbacks and reassessments, and among the impacted services is one I adore, Google Patent Search.

I already knew something was amiss with Google’s patent research tool: in recent days, when I’ve tried to reach it, I’ve been redirected to Google’s homepage. In fact, I was worrying about it on Twitter earlier this week:

The good news is that Google isn’t giving up on the idea of indexing U.S. patents; as it explains the situation in its post on today’s Google-wide changes, it likes the idea so much that it’s merging it into the main Google search engine:

We’re redirecting the old Patent Search homepage to to make sure everyone is getting the best possible experience for their patent searches. Over the past few months, we’ve been making updates and improvements to the Patent Search functionality on—not only are you able to search the same set of U.S. patents with the same advanced search options, the new experience loads twice as fast as the old Patent Search homepage, contributes to a unified search experience across Google, and sports Google Doodles as well. The team looks forward to including patents from other countries soon, and will be rolling out additional features to Patent Search on in the future.

That doesn’t sound so alarming, and indeed, the Advanced Patent Search page still works fine.

But there are a few things I’m still confused about:

  • Did Google forget to tell Google that it was doing away with “the old Patent Search homepage?” If you Google for “Google patents,” the first result you get is still that old homepage. The one that no longer exists.
  • What was wrong with the old Patent Seach homepage? In what way is a patent-specific search engine a bad way to search for patents?
  • Just how do you search for patents using, assuming all you want is to see in your results is patents? Are there instructions somewhere? In what way are these new results better than the old results, other than the improved speed? (Google does mention upcoming benefits — patents from other countries will be cool.)
  • Is there even one user of Google Patents who was vexed by its lack of Google Doodle logos?

I never thought of Patent Search as an idiosyncratic experiment or a potential orphan among Google projects: it’s just plain essential, especially since the U.S. Patent Office’s own search engine looks and works like it was designed in about 1972. I’m willing to assume that Google is indeed doing this to emphasize patents rather than phase them out, but it would help if it explained at more length what’s going on. Those of us who try to go to Google Patent Search would sure benefit from getting an explainer on how to search for patents henceforth, rather than being unceremoniously dumped at the main screen…