If you\u2019ve ever dreamed up an ingenious new invention and then wondered if someone else has already made it, Google\u2019s new patent search offering is for you. The new site, www.google.com\/patents, lets anyone search for U.S. patents by keyword, patent number, inventor and filing date. Users can view a scanned image of the original patent and zoom in on pages. The main search page displays five different random patents each time the page is visited. Recent inventions that popped up include toy skunk, pocket protector, toupee, and doll having delayed wetting and crying action. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) already allows anyone to search its site for patent documents. But Google\u2019s offering may have some advantages. "The existing websites have patents that you can view, so it\u2019s not that the information isn\u2019t there. The problem is finding it, and that\u2019s where Google\u2019s expertise comes in," said Mike Overy, secretary for the Wessex Round Table of Inventors, an inventors club in England. Overy formerly developed products for Nokia and is now a freelance inventor. Google said that like its Web search technology, the patent search site uses a number of different signals to evaluate how relevant each patent is to a user\u2019s query and then determines results algorithmically. The USPTO is not the only patent office to offer an online patent search facility. The European Patent Office also hosts such a service, covering patents from European countries, the United States, Canada and other patent authorities. Overy finds that database good but not very user friendly, he said. Discovering existing patents is critical for inventors, whose ability to make money on an invention could be severely reduced by an existing patent, Overy said.While Google\u2019s new offering may ease what is often an incredibly tedious job, it may not be able to fully solve the problem, he said. One issue inherent in new inventions is naming them. "If you\u2019ve invented what you think is the first gizmo whatsit and you type that into a search engine, you won\u2019t find much because the other person who invented it called it something different," he said. Google\u2019s patent search covers 7 million patents. The database doesn\u2019t include patents issued in the past few months, but Google "looks forward to expanding our coverage in the future," according to the frequently asked questions section of its site. Although Google\u2019s database lists only U.S. patents for now, the company said it hopes to expand the patent offices it includes and languages it supports. Presumably the site will one day allow users to save and print patents too. A note at the bottom of a posting about the new service on the Google blog says that a reference to saving and printing has been removed, since Google is still working on the capabilities.By Nancy Gohring, IDG News Service (Dublin Bureau)Related Links:\n\nGoogle Unveils News-Indexing Tools\n\nIBM Patent Filings to be OpenCheck out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.