How are Engineering Librarians Using Patent Information?

A few months ago I surveyed my fellow academic engineering librarians to find out how they were using web-based patent databases in their day-to-day work with students and faculty. Patent literature has had a role in engineering education, especially design engineering courses, for many decades. Of course, before the mid-1990s when free patent databases started appearing on the web, most engineering students did not have easy access to patent information unless they were lucky enough to live near a patent depository library.

Forty people completed the survey. The results were pretty much what I expected. Academic engineering librarians are heavy users of patent databases. 57.5% reported giving workshops on patent searching to undergraduate engineering students, while 52.5% delivered workshops to graduate students. The most popular databases taught were the USPTO, Google Patents and FreePatentsOnline.

Librarians also reported frequent usage of patent databases to answer a variety of questions from students and faculty. 86.8% reported helping someone locate a patent document. 78% reported helping someone do a general search (inventor, keyword, assignee, etc.) and 52.6% reported helping someone do a patent search using classification. The most popular databases were the USPTO, Google Patents and esp@cenet.

When asked to rank desirable features of patent databases, librarians overwhelming (87.2%) suggested multi-page saving/printing of patent documents and (74.4%) making PDF the standard format. Other popular features included patent classification search tools and the ability to download/save search results.

The complete results of the survey are available at

This entry was posted in Engineering education, Librarians, Patent databases. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to How are Engineering Librarians Using Patent Information?

  1. Mikk Putk says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Mikk Putk says:

    Great survey! But a pilot survey? So you are planning to conduct more detailed survey?

  3. Thanks, M.P. Yes, I would like to follow up with a more detailed survey that includes engineering faculty as well as librarians. The challenge, of course, is which faculty to include. Those who teach design engineering? Those on curriculum committees? Etc.

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