For nearly 20 years I’ve dreamed of an easy to use search engine that would index all US Patents and make it easy for any inventor or entrepreneur to do sophisticated patent research.
As an employee of Folio Corporation in the late 1980s, my job was to index huge data collections, such as AICPA content, all the IRS publications, and the US Code for our reference publishers who licensed our search engine technology. We looked at patent data several times, but it was never a project that actually got a sponsor.
With its introduction of Patent Search (in beta), Google has taken another large swath of content and made it more accessible and useful than ever before.
This will be a tremendous boon to inventors and entrepreneurs. Patent attorneys will still have to help the lay person understand what they are finding; but like individuals who do online medical research before going to the doctor, the individuals paying the patent attorneys will be more active in the conversation and more intelligent. Patent law will be less of a secret art and more open to all of us. I think this will have significant positive ramifications to business and entrepreneurship.
For information entrepreneurs like me, check another project off my list of things to do. Google is taking over the information world one large step at a time. Earlier this year Provo Labs kicked off a project to index all the SEC documents that are critical for anyone in the stock market to understand. We were able to easily download and index a large number of public filings. We did it because like the USPTO.gov site, the SEC.gov site is horrible, and all the SEC search engine sites that used to be free (during the bubble) have switched over to subscription models. Like my friend John Bresee says, an advertising model could be disruptive to these companies.
Judd Bagley suggested we launch our annual and quarterly reports search engine under the name 10qverymuch.com. So we bought that domain. But like some of our other vertical search engine ideas, we didn’t get very far along with this project. I’m glad we didn’t attempt a patent search engine; and now I’m just wondering when Google will launch it’s own SEC fillings search engine.
The SEC recently awarded $54 million in contracts, primarily to Keane, to update its Edgar database system over the next few years. I’m not sure that was necessary. Why not let one of the Google employees do this on their 20% time?
Okay, the overhaul is probably still needed; but if part of the contract is for a public-facing search engine upgrade on the SEC.gov web site, that would be completely unnecessary because Google will do this sooner or later.
I would hate to be Edgar Online right now, with Google on the prowl to index all the world’s content and make it free. Imagine the hit to the EDGR stock if and when Google unveils its SEC search engine. Ouch.
I would also hate to be 10kwizards.com, a company that I have admired.
I’m glad that Provo Labs didn’t fully fund and develop an SEC search engine, a plan which I blogged about in February, because there is no doubt in my mind that someone at Google is working on this right now.
It’s like trying to be Encyclopedia Britannica with Wikipedia around. What in the world would you do to survive? I just don’t think it’s possible.
Fortunately, for internet entrepreneurs, Google is great at search but not yet so good at community. And that leaves opportunities for information entrepreneurs who empower people to connect with each other as well as with the information they need.
But the window will close quickly. Google’s acquisition spree continues and its two latest purchases, JotSpot and YouTube are squarely in the community space. They join earlier acquisitions Pyra Labs (creator of Blogger.com) and Dodgeball, which gave Google the world’s largest blogging network and a mobile application for social networking.
Clayton Christensen, speaker at the first Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco (I can’t remember if it was 2004 or 2005) said that technology entrepreneurs had to add value to the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL and Php) and all the other open source software and web services that are freely available by doing something innovative on top of the stack.
This is really good news for entrepreneurs. Milions of dollars of development work has already been done for us, and we just have to add something new on top of the stack, in order to create value for customers.
With information entrepreneurs, I think we need to accept the fact that Google and other companies will be indexing virtually all the data in the world and providing most of it for free to everyone. As Christensen says, we’ll have to build something valuable on top of this free stack of data. It might be organizing it in a particular way, or building online communities around it, or providing online learning that takes advantage of the free information, or providing tools that help people utilize it and apply information better in their daily work, such as mobile or smart apps that are location aware or sensitive to what you are doing, so they intelligently bring the right information to you at the right time.
I believe there are more opportunities than ever before for entrepreneurs. They’re just a few notches higher on the value stack than they used to be.