New Espacenet: Improved search functionality but reduced accessibility

Last year, the EPO began roll out of New Espacenet, which will eventually replace Classic Espacenet. Espacenet is the EPO's online patent database. The site has a good reputation for usability and accessibility compared to other online patent databases, such as the pet hate of many a patent attorney, the USPTO's Public Pair. With New Espacenet, the EPO clearly intends to build on the past success of this essential online tool. However, whilst many of the  changes in New Espacenet are welcome, including improvements to search functionality, the EPO has made some changes that unfortunately have the effect of reducing accessibility as opposed to improving it.

The Display

The most obvious change in New Espacenet is the new layout. In Classic Espacenet, search results and documents were displayed on separate pages. In New Espacenet, the search result list and document pane are displayed side-by-side. When viewing documents, the drawings are displayed alongside either the bibliographic data, description or claims. The advantage of this new arrangement is that you don't need to keep clicking to and from the drawings and other parts of the document.

However, the unfortunate consequence of the new display is that the size of the viewing windows for documents is drastically reduced. This effect is compounded by the large screen area that is now devoted to extraneous title bars. It is not possible to zoom in on the document windows without simultaneously enlarging the title bars. The display is also not customizable. It is not possible, for example, to change the relative sizes of the viewing windows. These changes mean that the description is difficult to read on smaller screens, such as on a laptop. Even on a normal sized screen, documents are now more difficult to read for those who prefer or require a large font size. New Espacenet therefore lowers accessibility.

Trying to read New Espacenet
It is also unclear why, in New Espacenet, the EPO chose to have one of the viewing windows permanently stuck showing the drawings. Whilst viewing the drawings alongside the description may be critical in some technical areas, e.g. mechanical, they are of less importance in other fields, e.g. software. Why choose the drawings and not the claims? Or even better, why not allow users to customise which part of the document both windows show?

The release notes for New Espacenet mention that the layout adapts to different devices. However, when this Kat has tried the New Espacenet on a mobile device, she was faced with a nausea inducing display. In the mobile display, the biblo/description/claims window is placed above the drawing window, making it very difficult to scroll one of the windows without the display jumping to the other window.

Verdict: Whilst the EPO has obviously tried to improve the usability of Espacenet with the dual-window display, the result, in fact, lowers accessibility and usability.

Search

New Espacenet has an updated search. Behind-the-scenes changes mean that the new search simultaneously searches in English, German and French. The search now also now searches all text and name fields by default. Advanced Search has also been updated for New Espacenet. The new format of Advanced Search takes a bit of time to get used to, and is less intuitive than the Advanced Search of Classic Espacenet. However, once you have familiarised yourself with the new layout, it is easier to build complex search queries in the New Espacenet than in Classic.

One of the best things about Espacenet is the flexibility it offers in number searching. Espacenet compares favourably with the US patent database Public Pair which can only be described as painful to use. New Espacenet has built on this success, and offers even more flexibility in search terms. Number searches may be with or without leading zeros, slashes or country codes.

Verdict: New Espacenet provides a welcome improvement to the functionality of Classic Espacenet search, without an overly detrimental impact on usability. 

Other notable changes in New Espacenet include removal of the CAPTCHA for downloading documents. Users can now download patent documents without having to prove they are not a robot. It is also now possible to download the description in docx format. On the flip side, you can now only download the first 100 front pages as opposed to first 500 front pages of a search, and bulk download of patents is not possible.

A full summary of the updates to Espacenet can be read here. There is also a discussion forum.

So what are readers' views on New Espacenet?
New Espacenet: Improved search functionality but reduced accessibility New Espacenet: Improved search functionality but reduced accessibility Reviewed by Rose Hughes on Tuesday, August 11, 2020 Rating: 5

8 comments:

  1. great article - I have found new espacenet hard to use and adapt to. My biggest substantove issue- the difference in numbers of docs found for the same keyword search may be explained by simultaeneous search in multiple lagnuages (whichI had no idea was happening)- but I don't think so. Thios was the case even when I limited it to just title and batract via the compelx search. The inabiltiy to re-size docs or remove the drawinsg page - also a pain, and whilst I would probably get used to the advanced search - it is so diffiult to use for merely simple search, this renders it inaccessible and unusable for most of the general public - whereas most can figure out hopw to put three words - say - int he abtract or title box on classic and know what it means, the default to all text searching is also a pain - and unrecognisbale to a new or inexpert user - whatever was supposed to be fixed by moving away form Classic has very sadly done away with all the benefits and simplicity abnd elegance of Classic - sorry EPO Team I know you tried hard, I would recommend back to the drawing board.

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  2. Hate the new Espacenet with a vengeance: I find it clunky and unintuitive for some reason. Have kept trying to like it ever since they launched it and I still can’t take to it, so am continuing to use Classic in the hope that it will be improved at some point. I have sent them my feedback.

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  3. I'm glad I'm not the only one finding the "new" version hard to use. I agree on all your comments about the display. For serious work involving flicking between multiple documents, claims vs description etc, the classic version is a must.

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  4. I could not agree more with the comments in relation to accessibility of the New Espacenet. The changes proposed in the article relating to the second window would be welcome. The ability to customise what is viewed in each window would be useful but also the ability to close or minimise one of the windows would be great.

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  5. Thanks for the article. I'm a dilettante user of classic Espacenet and don't like the new one at all. What I think though is irrelevant; the pro users are the ones that matter. And from the comments above, they seem to be even more dissatisfied than me.

    What do we learn from this? What Simon & Garfunkel sang, half a century ago, and what Amazon Chief Bezos grasped decades ago: The over-riding objective is that you've gotta keep your customer satisfied. Perhaps the EPO doesn't need to with quite the same urgency as a company with its competitors breathing down its neck but that's an advantage. The EPO can take the time it needs, to make New Espace better than it is currently.

    Come on EPO. It's not too late, to solicit feedback, think about it, and then act diligently upon it. From the comments above, you enjoy quite an accumulation of goodwill from your pro customers. Don't squander it, please.

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  6. As long as the old Espacenet will be available I will not use the new one. I can only agree with the comments above.

    What is still a pain is the way you have to input the number of a document, lets say you want to consult as it has been cited in a TBA decision. Instead of WO 2007/123456 you need to delete the / in the middle. You cannot input the number as you find it. EP 2 222 222 has to be input EP2222222. Japanese documents are difficult to retrieve, be it with the new or the old Espacenet. This will not change for a while as I have been told by a member of the Espacenet team during the break of a conference held on the EPO premisses.

    I do agree, the new Espacenet is a nice try but the EPO could do better. However the self glorification forces of the EPO have struck again.

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  7. Old espace is not without its problems. As I noted in a letter published in the May 2020 CIPA journal, while the UKIPO had provided the EPO with an essentially complete PDF collection of its patents, it seems that the EPO has replaced some of them with just the far from error-free machine-recognised text of the abridgement, description, and claims. For the drawings you are referred to those of allegedly-equivalent patents, which in the case of the one I wanted, were far from being equivalent. The document in question was GB585791 (not GB595971 that I dyslexically wrote in the CIPA letter.

    At least old espace did find it: on checking just now, new improved espace says it does not exist!

    Admittedly my experience is based on a single document, but it seems highly unlikely that mine would happen to be the only one of the many hundreds of thousands of GB patents that has been treated in this way.

    Personally I shall continue using the excellent German Patent Office's DEPATISNET. It has an english-language interface for non-german speakers, with basic and expert mode interfaces, the latter providing user-customisable presentations of search results

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  8. An update: new espace does in fact find GB 585791, but still with the same limited information. The problem was that, as noted by Attentive Observer, new espace is very picky about how you enter the number. Old espace happily finds GB585971 (no space after "GB"). New espace needs a space between "GB" and "585971".

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