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Patent information goes online

A company that for years has been providing information about patents worldwide is moving to the Web with the help of Microsoft.

A company that for years has been providing information about patents worldwide is moving to the Web with the help of Microsoft, the firm will announce today.

Derwent is launching a new service, Patent Explorer, developed by Microsoft, that will allow users to search for patents in the United States and Europe.

Users will be charged a few dollars on a per-document basis or will be able to pay a hefty sum--beginning at $20,000--for unlimited use of the site for a year.

Derwent, founded in 1951, has made a business of taking publicly available patent documents from around the globe, analyzing and summarizing them, and then publishing the results for its paying customers on a variety of media including paper, CD-ROM, and via a closed online network.

The move to the Web will make the documents that much more accessible--both to one-time users who wouldn't necessarily subscribe to the service and to a variety of people who might be daunted by a closed online network but who already have Web access.

For instance, not only will librarians (the company's typical customers) be able to access the information, but end users such as engineers and chemists also will be able to do so.

"We will put this on the desktop where they don't have to learn any new language," said David Smith, Derwent general manager for North America. "That's tremendously empowering and really improves the efficiency of their organization."

Other services that catalog and sell public records also have brought their services to the Web, taking advantage of the universal interface.

"It is a highly searchable database," said product manager Charles Gold, adding that "2,500 U.S. patents are issued each week."

In addition, he said patent documents often are written obtusely to obscure the invention.

Patent Explorer supports Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3.0 and above as well as Netscape Navigator 2.0.

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