The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) web page is not very user friendly when searching for prior art patents. But I found an add-on for Firefox called Aspator that makes it much friendlier.
Aspator is designed for inventors, engineers, scientists, patent agents, patent attorneys, and patent executives who search patents regularly.
I’ve used it for a few patent searches now and I like how everything is built right into the USPTO website. No having to go to multiple pages for different features, especially for downloading a .PDF copy, everything comes up right on the USPTO search page.
Another great feature is that searches can be manipulated and saved, and your own personal comments added. The comments are conveniently located and will come in handy when writing a patent opinion. It simply brings all patent information to one page. This feature will save so much time looking for patents that I just looked at because you do not have to hit the “back” button 20 times to return to previously viewed patents.
I will definitely keep this Ad-on on all my computers.
- Read searched patent abstracts, claims, drawings and bibliographies from USPTO and esp@cenet on a single page.
- View USPTO patent drawings directly. No need to install TIFF viewer.
- Instant translation of patent abstract.
- Patent classification analyzer.
- Direct access to esp@cenet and Google Patent Search.
- Download PDF of an entire patent with one click.
- Download multiple patents in one single PDF file or in separate PDF files.
- Store your search records with your comments.
I liked the Aspator add-on so much I decided to interview the Developer Kenneth Yip and learn why Aspator was created and find out what’s next for this add-on. Here is the interview:
Q: Can you give us a little background about yourself?
A: I was born and raised in Hong Kong. My family immigrated to Toronto when I was in high school. I earned a bachelor degree in electrical engineering from the University of Waterloo, and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University.
After worked for a telecom research company in New Jersey and two startups in New York City, I moved back to Hong Kong to work for a research institution. In the research institution, I was responsible for all IP maters and spent most of my effort in patent searches, reviewing patent applications, and IP licensing. I then earned a LLB from University of London external program. Now, if everything goes smoothly, will become a lawyer in Hong Kong later this year specializing in tech and IP.
Q: Do you have any experience searching patents and what got you into creating add-ons for patent searches?
A: As I needed to search patents regularly and found Delphion a bit overpriced (or too powerful for my need) and slow, I began thinking of different ways to improve patent search efficiency. Also, at about the same time, Firefox became popular. Because of these two factors, I decided to create Aspator.
Q: One problem many users have with the USPTO website involves viewing images of patents and drawings, which are in TIFF format. Even if a user has a TIFF viewer, such as Alternatiff, conflicts with programs such as Apple’s Quicktime can make TIFF files difficult to display properly. Does Aspator help with this issue?
A: Yes, as there is also a big issue with printing TIFF files embedded in a web page. In the newest version of Aspator, 1.0252, Aspator will allow a preview of pages 2-4 of a patent/patent application without a TIFF viewer by converting TIFF images to PNG images, a much more common and easily-viewed image format. Pages 2-4 are usually the first 3 diagrams of a patent/patent applications. If there is a demand, future versions of Aspator will turn all images from TIFFs to PNGs.
Q: When testing out the Aspator add-on for Firefox I was impressed with the ability to save search results for later use, when you created this feature how did you envision it to help a searcher?
A: Haha, I love this feature. I believe this feature will distinguish a casual patent searcher from a professional patent searcher. A casual patent searcher will only search patent once in a few months and may not need this feature. On the other hand, a professional patent searcher needs to deal with many patent search requests a day and may find this feature useful.
Q: What do you think the most important features are for the Aspator add-on for Firefox?
A: I would say it is the ability to show the patent contents along the search result.
Q: Did you apply for any patents regarding this add-on?
A: No. As most features of Aspator are about information display and simple HTML parsing, there is not much need for patent application. However, I have at least 15-20 features in my to-do-list. Two or three of them I believe are quite “revolutionary” and worth for patent protection. Hopefully, these features would be able to leave Delphion in the dust:)
Q: Why did you pick the name Aspator?
A: A person (or) who is an ace (as) in patent (pat).
Q: What what can tell me abut the lifespan of Aspator?
A: One happy thing that Aspator users need to know about is the life span of Aspator. The value of Aspator is inversely proportional to the value and features provided by USPTO, esp@cenet or Delphion.
It is my sincere hope that one day I can stop thinking about Aspator because a patent search in USPTO, esp@cenet or Delphion becomes very powerful and user-friendly.
Q: Although I just found this Add-on, it has been out there for a while, are you hitting a plateau?
A: Although I have been receiving many encouraging emails from Aspator users, the statistics from Mozilla shows that the usage of Aspator hit its peak usage in late 2009 with about 2200 installed machines and has been decreasing to about only 1600 installed machines recently. I do not know if it is because of:
- bugs in Aspator that discourage people from using it?
- reduced need of patent search?
- declining market share of Firefox?
- there are better new tools out there?
I would appreciate if ex-Aspator users could provide feedback regarding any problems with Aspator.
I believe the most urgent thing I need to do for Aspator is write a few articles about how to use Aspator and patent search. This hopefully would let more people be aware of Aspator. So far the only marketing was to write emails to bloggers and invite them to review Aspator.
I also need to hire some programmers to implement my to-do-list and port Aspator to IE and Chrome (as I cannot spend much time for Aspator programming anymore). Unfortunately, use of Firefox seems not growing in the US and in Asia, a port to IE and Chrome is a must if I want to make Aspator to survive in long term. However, this means money. If any law firm, patent agents or tech companies would fund the development, I would be more than happy to give them credits and let them put up patent related advertisements in Aspator.