My Reference Database

Searching by inventor’s name works at the patent office’s web site back to 1920. ex: in/Edison in the 1790-present database would find patents where one of the inventors’ last name is Edison, the famous guy plus anyone else with that surname. But what if you are interested in patents before 1920, as say someone who is reading something on a site called The patent office doesn’t provide a direct way to do this, but my friend Jeff found a way to do just that! It’s there, hiding in plain sight, on the advance search’s help page. I’ll give you a second to try to spot it.

Jeff’s trick is to search the modern, 1976 and up, database for references by name! ex: Ref/Edison. That will return modern patents that reference patents by someone with the surname Edison. The reference can be to any patent, including pre-1920 patents! Suddenly there is a way to find pre-1920 patents for an inventor. It’s an absolutely brilliant, albeit clunky, way to cheat the system, to do something that could not otherwise be done. It’s clunky in that you cannot control the date range of the references. The reference could be to a 1920 and up patent you could have found simply by doing an inventor name search (in/Edison). You’d have to look at a lot of false positives, but ah, before google patents was a thing, you would occasionally find a pre-1920 patent by the inventor you were searching for! The unsearchable suddenly became searchable.

Flaws with the trick include finding the same pre-1920 patent referenced again and again by modern patents. The first one is pure gold to its searcher, but the rest become false positives. Another problem is that not every pre-1920 patent gets referenced by a modern patent. So it’s not a perfect trick, but that doesn’t diminish its brilliance any. It’s so cleaver I would be really proud if I that thought it up myself.

Inspired by Jeff’s trick, I created a searchable database of pre-1920 inventors. I did this by scanning the bulk granted patent xml files, looking for pre-1920 references that I hadn’t already found. Bam, no more false positives! Well, at least not as many as using a straight up reference search as it turns out. The problem is that the reference data is not complete clean. I found typos in the inventor’s names, dyslexic permutations of the referenced patent number, missing D’s of design patents etc. I also added pre-1920 inventors gleaned from other sources, as I credit . Seems it pays to be a developer of an antique tool patent web site, chock full of pre-1920 inventors names. It came into existence though the efforts of my friends Jeff and Ralph and others.

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