What I Did on My PTDL Vacation: Patents and Trademarks in a Corporate Information Center

Donna K. Hopkins
Engineering Librarian, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute
[email protected]


This paper is a case report that describes how a former Patent and Trademark Depository Library (PTDL) Librarian applied their knowledge of Intellectual Property (IP) gained at a PTDL to a corporate setting and Information Center. The paper describes methods that were used to successfully promote the use of patent and trademark literature, as well as services of the Information Center.


Patents, Trademarks; Corporate and Special Librarianship; Patent Specialists; Information Scientists; Promoting Intellectual Property; Marketing Library Services; Information Needs of Scientists; Research & Development; Business Information; Corporate Knowledge; Intranets; PTDLs


I am in the unusual position of having worked at a Patent and Trademark Depository Library (PTDL), the New York Public Library, a corporate Information Center (IC), and then another PTDL, the Louisiana State University. Looking back, it should not have been surprising that the knowledge, gained from four years of working in a very busy New York Public Library PTDL, would come in handy at my job in a corporate Information Center. Although, at the time I thought my patent and trademark experience would be about as useful as my skill at Trivial Pursuit. To my surprise, the IC had a collection of patents going back to the 1960’s, and earlier for chemical patents, with the most recent (1990+) on CD-ROM. The Information Center also subscribed, and encouraged individual subscriptions, to the MicroPatent online delivery system and Derwent’s Patent Explorer. Patents, and to a lesser extent trademarks, became an essential part of my work.

It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know

When I left New York, I called the PTDL Program Office to say good-bye. I was told that the new Akron PTDL would be opening a month after I started my new job at the IC and, as usual several of the PTDL Program staff were going to Akron to conduct an onsite PTDL staff training program. I arranged my work schedule so that I could attend part of the program. The speakers, on the program, from Derwent happened to include the technical support representative who provided support to our Information Center. The representative was able to visit my office the next day and solve a technical problem with our Derwent CD-ROMs which we had been unable to solve, on the telephone, for over six months. I was also already on a first name basis with MicroPatent technical support people; although now I needed support with their web-based products rather than CD-ROMs. It was routine for IC users to call me when they had trouble with any of these products, and I in turn contacted the vendors when I could not solve the problem. When necessary, I even went to the IC researcher’s offices to fix or install the appropriate software.

The CD-ROMs, and later the online Patent Explorer, were subsidized by a Patent Law Department, which just happened to be located right next to the IC. I developed a relationship with most of the department including secretaries, paralegals, attorneys, and the head of the department. There was a two-way working relationship between the Patent Law Department and IC on a variety of matters involving online searches, laboratory notebooks, technology transfer (both selling and obtaining), patent resources, and training.

Search And Ye Shall Find

The IC had enough requests for online searches that we, IC information specialists, all did our share. Because of my background, I was assigned Intellectual Property (IP) related searches and many of those related to technology. Preliminary trademark searches, for paralegals in Patent Law, were usually restricted to specific countries or just the United States Federal and State marks. Patent families and equivalents were requested by researchers who had references to foreign patents that were sometimes in obscure languages, such as Afrikaans. These references came from bibliographies, end-user searches, or even searches performed by the other information specialists.

The most enlightening and encouraging aspect of the technology searches was that so many scientists took for granted that patents are an important part of the scientific literature. Since many of the tandard databases, such as CA Plus and RAPRA, contain patents. I routinely asked clients if they wanted patents included in the search report. This was the question I asked right after “What years would you like the search to cover?” About half of the clients wanted patents to be included, while most of the others said they already had copies of the relevant patents in their areas of technology!

Sometimes It is What You Know.

As my work progressed at the IC and for a variety of reasons, I became the End-User Training Coordinator, especially where information resources were concerned. This began with a series of “What the Information Center Can Do for You” presentations, but soon I was also giving hands-on training, for example on Netscape, and I run “Kiosk” type demonstrations outside the cafeteria. The Netscape resentations were focused on the needs of the attendees of the specific session. The ones for research scientists and the Patent Law group, for example, included web-based patent information.

The “Kiosk” presentations had three objectives. The first objective was to increase the visibility of the IC. The second was to increase employee use of Netscape, and consequently the intranet, which happened to be produced by the IC. And, thirdly, we wanted to showcase trial products to increase feedback. The Kiosk presentations were highly successful. During the months that I ran the demonstrations, requests (to Computer Services) for Netscape to be installed were doubled; Derwent Patent Explorer (the first trial product) replaced the unwieldy CD-ROM product; several other end-user tools were either purchased or rejected; and requests for various IC services such as ILL, database searching, and desktop installation of new or existing information products increased.

Competing Priorities, Success at a Price

While the “Kiosk” fulfilled its purposes admirably, it came at a price. Promoting and supporting the Kiosk interfered with my foremost responsibility, that of providing primary reference and information service for the IC. My solution was to replace the frequent demonstrations with a monthly end-user training session over lunch. I called it “Food For Thought,” and publicized it on the intranet and on the bulletin board at the entrance to the IC. The first round of three programs: the“Tour of the Intranet,” “Patent Information,” and “Finding Company Information” was so successful that the waiting list nearly filled a second round of the same programs! It also lead to an invitation to speak to the product development group about patents as well as countless telephone questions about patent information available through the IC.

When a competitive intelligence task force was formed, I was asked to give a brief explanation of why patents were useful to them. I included an explanation of the parts of a patent document, where to look for prematurely expired patents, and the idea of patent equivalents and patent families.


I have always enjoyed finding the connections between the seemingly unconnected. While at first glance, there may seem to be few similarities between the corporate world and the academic one, my experiences as an information professional show that intellectual property is valuable to both. Patents, trademarks, and the tools for finding them are a fundamental resource for librarians and information
professionals, no matter who their patrons are.