Report:PatBase/Viewing Results/Viewing Patent Citations

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Viewing Patent Citations

PatBase displays results by family record. This naturally complicates citation searching, because each individual family member that makes up the larger hit will have its own individual set of both forward and backward patent citations.

Fortunately, a flexible user interface gives PatBase users some options when it comes to searching for and reviewing citations. Users can choose to conduct a citation search through the command line interface by utilizing the CTF/CTB command line citation search options (CTF to locate forward citations for a search result set and CTB to locate backward citations). For example, a user can enter "CTF 5" in the command line to locate all forward citations for the records in result set 5. Citation searching is also initiated and performed in a separate window, just like full text viewing. This leaves the original hit list intact in the main window. The citation window displays the bibliographic record for the “master patent” on the right, and a menu for citation navigation appears to the left. A drop-down menu at the top of the navigation pane defaults to “all,” meaning that all forward and backward citations on record for all family members are automatically displayed. An example is displayed in the figure below.

The citation view window. A compilation of all forward and backward citations found on any family member is shown by default.

From here, there are two ways to perform citation review: the first is one-by-one bibliographic review from the citation window, and the second is using the citation window’s features to create a new search query containing only the records of interest, for in-depth review. The second method will erase the original hit list and generate a new one in the main page, effectively running a new search string. Given the advantages/disadvantages to each approach, the most beneficial way to perform citation searching in PatBase may be to quickly view bibliographic records for the citations, and then select preferred documents for further viewing based on this initial information.

To browse the citations one-by-one, the user may choose to view the aggregated list of “all” citations made by each document in the family, or they may choose to view only those citations from any single family member in the record (via a drop-down menu). The citations can then be reviewed one at a time by clicking the “view” link that appears to the right hand side of the document number, which will load the family number and master patent for the record (the records will load in accordance with the “display” scheme chosen for the main window – full text review is not possible). Caution is needed to avoid accidentally navigating into a new family record: clicking on any citation document number itself will erase the current family data, and will cause the window to display citation information for the newly chosen family. However, if desired, the user may choose to load citation data for a particularly relevant citation itself, thereby “branching out” into more distant generations of the citation family tree.

Running a new search query on the records of interest is performed via the “search selected” link at the top of the window. This command wipes out the current search results in the main window, and runs a new query that consists of family hits for the documents on the list of selected citations. With this function, PatBase has a distinct advantage over systems that simply provide links next to the citation numbers for one-at-a-time lookup.

Users can also search individually for citation data for any patent number by selecting the "Enter a Number" option at the top of the citation view window. The user will be taken to a "Citation Search" form (which is also accessible through the main PatBase floating toolbar under Search >> Citation Search) where they can enter a patent number and select the search button to retrieve the citation data and bibliographic information for the patent family containing that patent number.[1]

editors note iconEditor's Note:

The addition of the "Citation Search" form gives users the option to quickly search for citation data for any document number at all, even if the number isn't shown in the data currently displayed in the Citations window. Besides accessing this form through the Citations window, users may also always access it directly from the floating toolbar in the main PatBase window, thereby allowing a quick citation search at any time.

Unfortunately, this search form did not appear to be functioning correctly at the time of testing. It only intermittently worked correctly and displayed the relevant patent family record and citation data for the patent number searched. At other times, the number would disappear from the search form after the user pressed "Search", and no search results would display at all. It is unclear whether this issue was a temporary system glitch.

There is one further way that users may choose to investigate citation data: in some display formats, a list of cited document numbers (backward citations) is shown as part of a family record. Selecting one of these document numbers will load the record into the citation window, displaying its bibliographic data for quick review. A quirk of the system: this cited document’s own forward/backward citation data is loaded into the navigation pane on the left, and users should take care not to mistake it for the original family record’s citation data.

editors note iconEditor's Note:

There are natural advantages and drawbacks to each method of citation viewing in PatBase. When reviewing documents from the citation view window, users may only view bibliographic data for the citation, not the full text. Additionally, because of the interface design, there is the possibility that the user could accidentally load a new list of citations for one of the cited documents, navigating away from the original data of interest without intending to (users can navigate back to the original citation data by right clicking and selecting "Back" from the drop-down menu). Overall the citation window offers limited functionality to effectively review citations in-depth, but provides a way to browse citation data quickly, even jumping through multiple generations of citations with speed.

For in-depth review, PatBase provides a way for users to generate a new search query from cited documents of interest. Unfortunately, this may completely interrupt searching within the query that was being reviewed previous to the citation search. To avoid getting off-course, it is advisable for searchers to review an entire query, mark all references that may be of interest, and then methodically perform a citation search for each of the records of interest; this way the original document reviewing process does not have to be interrupted in order for the user to explore new avenues opened by citation searching.

In general, the best use of the citation search features in PatBase is probably to use them both together. The citation window provides a way to quickly preview the content of cited documents, and the “search selected” command lets users create a new search string to view them in depth. The two features work together to promote efficiency when choosing which citations are likely to contain relevant content. Overall, including both methods in its interface is a mark of the system’s flexibility.

It should be noted that although non-patent citation data can be viewed in PatBase, it is not text-searchable. This puts the system at a disadvantage when compared with other systems that do offer this feature, such as Thomson Innovation, Delphion and MicroPatent PatentWeb. In addition, PatBase does not include any citation relevance indicators that might have been associated with these citations, as some other systems, like Questel QPAT, do.

In addition, PatBase is NOT able to link its non-patent citation data out to any source where users might be able to obtain a copy of the document, or to other patents within the system that may have cited that document. These features are currently available, for example, in in Thomson Reuter’s Thomson Innovation product, which links to Thomson’s major literature resource, the ISI Web of Science.

Viewing Citations Graphically

A new feature was added to PatBase in October 2007 that allows users to view family “citation trees” graphically. This feature is accessed by selecting “Tree View” link from the top of the citation search screen; once activated, it generates a representation of the relationships between a patent family and its forward and backward cited/citing documents. The citation window will split between the graphical” tree” representation, above, and the traditional bibliographic view, below. As of November 2010, the citation tree view was updated with a new color-coded graphical display, with backwards citations in purple, family documents in blue, and forward citations in green. Users can also now "drill down within publications within the tree for additional information."[2]

The citation tree view.

The citation tree display can be altered through the drop-down menu at the top of the screen to display all family members (even those for which no citation data is available), cited members only, or the forward and backward citations of individual family members.

Users can mouse over the forward and backward citations and the family members to view basic bibliographic data (title, assignee, publication date, abstract excerpt), and a small menu is also displayed beneath this data. The "Add to Search Basket" option allows the user to select documents of interest to be searched, using the same “search selected” feature which is accessible at the top of the main Citations window, and is described above.

editors note iconEditor's Note:

The "search selected" option is also available in a menu at the very top of the citation tree display, and the citation search form will appear in the bottom pane that contains the bibliographic data if the option is selected while in the tree view.

The "View Citations" option will re-center the tree on that document’s family, generating a new tree (and changing the bibliographic data in the window below to contain citation data for the newly chosen document). If the citation window is re-focused on a new family, the new family will appear as blue, and its forward and backwards citations will appear as pink and green respectively. No color code is displayed to indicate previously viewed documents or documents from the originally viewed family. Finally, selecting "View Family" will change the bibliographic information in the bottom pane of the display to the selected document's family bibliographic information.

The citation tree, having been re-centered on WO9212140A1, a backward citation of an original family document, US7393852BB.

An image of the citation tree can be exported and downloaded by selecting the “Save/Export” option that appears at the top of the page.

The user can also select the "Timeline View" (either from the main Citations window or the tree view display). From the timeline view, the user can select to view a citations line graph or bubble graph, which both illustrate the amount of citations for a particular family over a period of time. The citation timeline view and citation line/bubble graphs were added as additional graphical display options for citations in July 2011.[2]

The timeline view illustrates the occurrence of citations within a given period of time, with backwards citation in purple, the family number in gray, and forward citations in green. The user can select the backwards or forwards citation numbers to view the basic bibliographic information for the document and the options to "View Citations" (refocus the timeline on that document's family record) or "Add to Search Basket" (save the document number for a query initiated through the "search selected" option).

The Timeline View.

The user can also select the "View Citations Line Graph" option above the citations view to generate a line graph which "will display number of citations over time, peaks in the line graph clearly indicate years in which the most backward and forward citations occur for the record."[1] The user can mouse over the nodes in the line graph to see details of publication year and number of records.[1]

The Citations Line Graph.

The user can also select to view the same data in the line graph in the form of a bubble graph, with larger bubbles indicating a larger amount of citations for that year. The user can mouse over the bubbles to view publication year and number of record for that year.[1]

Like the tree view, the timeline view, citations line graph, and citations bubble graph can all be saved and exported.

The Citations Line Graph, viewed as a Bubble Graph.

editors note iconEditor's Note:

These additional graphical displays add the benefit of allowing the user to visualize the amount of citations for a particular family record over time, and the user may locate more relavent, recent citations or obscure older citations through this display format.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "PatBase Manual." PatBase website (restricted), . Accessed December 5, 2011.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "PatBase user news." PatBase website (restricted), Accessed December 5, 2011.
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