The (Eventual) Digitization of Pre-1978 Copyright Records

Copyright is an incredibly important form of intellectual property in the US that protects “original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression”, ranging from artwork and novels to computer software and architecture.  Copyright can also be an enormous pain to search, especially if you’re looking for pre-1978 copyright registrations. You very well may need to search for pre-1978 copyright registrations, since works originally copyrighted after 1922 and renewed before 1978 “have been automatically extended to last for a total term of 95 years” (learn more about copyright duration here).  Basically, a work published in 1923 could still have an active copyright today.

If you’re searching for a post-1978 copyright registration, you can check the online Copyright Catalog.  The search interface doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but you can at least search by keyword, title, claimant, organization, etc. and quickly browse through lists of results.

Searching the online Copyright Catalog for Disney’s Moana.

You don’t have nearly as much luck if you need to search pre-1978 registrations.  Here are the options that I’m aware of:

  • Search the copyright card catalog (which contains approximately 45 million cards covering 1870 through 1977) onsite in the Copyright Public Records Reading Room at the Library of Congress. If you don’t live near Washington DC, this may be tricky.
  • Try browsing digitized versions of the Catalog of Copyright Entries (CCE).  The University of Pennsylvania has an excellent guide on locating digitized historic registration records. The Internet Archive has a collection of digitized Catalogs of Copyright Entries from July 1891 through December 1977.  You can keyword search within individual volumes thanks to OCR’ed text, but I couldn’t find a way to keyword search across the text of all volumes at once. (Note: The Copyright Office states “The CCE does not contain all registration updates and does not contain entries for recorded documents, including assignments, and should not be used as the only reference.”)
Digitized Catalog of Copyright Entries on the Internet Archives.

Thankfully, the US Copyright Office is in the midst of a massive digitization project that will eventually “provide web-access to the pre-1978 Copyright registration records.”  The Project Goals page gives an update on the current status of the project:

In 2014-2015 the Copyright Office completed the digitization of pre-1978 records for preservation. The Office is now capturing pre-1978 digital content and is moving towards integrating the content and card images into the existing online record.

There’s no estimated completion date for the project, and knowing the speed at which government works, it may be a few years before we see the pre-1978 records integrated into the online Copyright Catalog.  At least the project is moving along (although it does concern me that the Project Blog link no longer works!).  Kudos to the Library of Congress and US Copyright Office for undertaking this enormous task, and hopefully the project will help librarians more easily identify copyright status of older works in the future.

Searching Databases with the 5 Senses: Beyond Searching with Words

The intellectual property search field really opened my eyes to how database searching isn’t just limited to keyword searches.  Sometimes, you need to go beyond searching only with words…you can search by drawing chemical structures to find patents mentioning similar compounds, or you can find similar designs or logos through a reverse image search.  If searching with visual elements is possible, then is there also technology that allows people to search through a database using other physical senses? Here are a few examples of tools allowing users to search by visual, auditory, tactile, taste, and scent criteria:

  • Sight – This is the easy one…reverse image searching is very common, especially using Google Images.  For Google, it’s as simple as uploading a photo or entering a URL for an image to find a list of matching or similar images.  The Pinterest Visual Search Tool has the added interesting feature of allowing you to zoom in and only search for a specific part of an image. Check out this video and presentation When image, colour and texture is content: the potential of visual search for an interesting case study of making 3 million designs from the

    UK Board of Trade Design Register visually searchable.


    Visual search tool on Pinterest.

  • Hearing – Technology to search by sound also seems to be relatively established, with apps like “Soundhound (previously Midomi), Doreso and others […] using a simple algorithm to match an acoustic fingerprint to a song in a library.”  Of course, Google also has its own sound search app.
  • Touch – For tactile search to exist, first we would need computer screens that allow users to “feel” specific textures and sensations.  Haptic engineering (according to Discover magazine) “focuses on applying tactile stimulation to our interactions with computers”, and this engineering field may lead to a future where we can search for and share textures and sensations with each other online.  I was only able to find one example of actual tactile search technology in a fascinating paper describing Twech: A Mobile Platform to Search and Share Visuo-tactile Experiences.
  • Taste/Smell – I wish Google Nose really existed, but unfortunately that was just a brilliant April Fool’s joke.  Searching by actual taste and smell doesn’t seem to be a realistic technology yet, but some databases do exist where users can search for the chemical components behind flavors and scents.  For example, BitterDB allows users to search “over 550 compounds that were reported to taste bitter to humans.”  You can also search for perfumes by “notes”, like citrus smells, flowers, woods, mosses, and more.

The technology is already available for image and sound-based searching, and we may soon be able to share and search tactile sensations over mobile devices.  I still look forward to the day when I can search for anything tasting like banana pancakes through Google…I’m sure that day is closer than we expect.

Top 3 Free Patent Search Databases – Latest Updates

It’s been about a year since I left the intellectual property field, and I know that patent search tools can change very quickly, with new updates usually added on a monthly or quarterly basis. I’m just starting to try to catch up on the latest patent search news, and one good place to start is by checking on the latest updates to three popular free patent search sites: EspacenetPATENTSCOPE, and Google Patents.  Here’s a quick overview on each site and a look at the latest new features:


Overview: Espacenet is a free patent database created by the European Patent Office (EPO), and allows users to search across bibliographic data (and in some cases, full text) for over 90 million patent documents from around the world.  Espacenet includes innovative features like image mosaics of patent drawings, machine translation of bibliographic data and full text (powered by EPO and Google), links to patent registers for the issuing patent office, and Global Dossier links (which includes patent file history papers for some patent documents from USPTO, EPO, JPO, KIPO, SIPO, WIPO, and CIPO).

Latest Updates: The latest news I was able to find for Espacenet was from November 2016, and the release notes describe the following updates:

  • Global Dossier service now includes access to patent file papers from the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) for applications published on or after October 1, 2015 and for Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications published on or after January 1, 1978.
  • Links to Global Dossier and links to the European Patent Register and available national registers have been separated.
  • Results lists can not be sorted by publication date.
  • The bibliographic and full-text coverage tables for Espacenet now use green coloring for rows to indicate changes in the data.
Global Dossier link now available for a Canadian patent application.


Overview: PATENTSCOPE is a free patent search site maintained by the World Intellectual Property Organization, and it allows users to search across 59 million patent documents, including 3.1 million PCT applications.  PATENTSCOPE includes unique features like the Cross-Lingual Expansion search form (which uses machine translation to automatically expand a search query), machine translation options of patent documents through WIPO Translate (or other machine translation services), and a chart of national phase information for granted PCT applications.

Latest Updates: According to PATENTSCOPE News Archive, recent updates to the database include:

  • Chemical structure search option for “PCT applications in English and German (from 1978), and the national collection of the U.S. (from 1979)”.  Users must first log in to use this feature.
  • Updates to WIPO Translate, which now uses “cutting-edge neural machine translation technology to render highly technical patent documents into a second language in a style and syntax that more closely mirrors common usage.”  The technology is initially being used for translation of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese patent documents into English.
  • Global Dossier content is now available on PATENTSCOPE for Japanese, Canadian, and EPO patent applications, under the “Documents” tab.  Global Dossier content for US, AU, KR, and CN documents will be available in the near future.
PATENTSCOPE chemical structure editor (image from press release).

Google Patents

Overview:  Google Patents searches across 17 patent authorities, and users also have the option to search across non-patent literature from Google Scholar.  Google Patents includes many unique features, like automatic grouping of results by Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) codes, CPC codes added to non-patent literature through machine classification, and an option to search for related prior art for a single patent document.

 Latest Updates: The Google Blog’s latest news on Google Patents is from August 2016 and describes the addition of 11 patent authorities to the patent coverage. The Google Patents homepage also mentions new features including “boolean search, graphs, thumbnail grids and downloads.”   At the bottom of search results, I noticed new graphs and charts identifying top filing dates, assignees, inventors, and CPC codes for top 1000 results, which seems to be a new feature since 2015.

Graphs and charts under Google Patents search results, identifying top filing dates, assignees, inventors, and CPC codes.