Fran Rosenthal, One of the original participants
During the late '70s and early '80s information professionals got together and formed online users' groups to share searching issues and tips. I had been involved with the now defunct Cincinnati Online Users Group (COUG). After all the controversy at the Denmark Subscribers meeting in the spring of 1987, I mentioned to Edlyn that the patent searchers should have their own group fashioned after COUG to meet to share information and concerns away from any of the sponsored vendor or database producer meetings. At that time our company was Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals and we were a subsidiary of Dow Chemical. Edlyn and Mike Feider of Dow negotiated Derwent subscription renewals together as one company and Edlyn may have mentioned this idea to Mike. In June of 1987, the Central Meeting of ACS was held in Columbus, Ohio at Ohio State University. A patent symposium was being presented at this meeting and the evening before, after I had checked into the hotel, I bumped into Mike Feider in the lobby and we made plans to have dinner along with Irene Nyquist from Dow Chemical. As we were leaving we saw Suzanne Elsoffer from Monsanto and asked her to join us. We went to an Italian restaurant near campus and while enjoying a fine dinner the conversation turned to the topic of forming a group for patent information users. So the seeds were sown.
Edlyn Simmons, Chair, 1990-92 Vice-Chair, 1988-90
It was June, 1987, and a handful of patent information specialists were gathered in Columbus, Ohio. It was unusual for patent searchers to meet without an agenda prepared by a database producer, the occasion was a patent symposium at the Central Regional meeting of the American Chemical Society, held on the campus of Ohio State University. The Symposium, featuring papers on patents and patent retrieval systems by Edlyn Simmons, Mike Feider and Irene Nyquist, Bruce Mason, Nancy Lambert and Suzanne Elsoffer, was well received by the audience. This being an ACS meeting, and a regional meeting at that, the number of people attending the symposium was small relative to the amount of time and effort spent in writing papers for it. This might have been disappointing to the participants, but two circumstances turned the symposium into a great success. About a dozen senior staff members of Chemical Abstracts Service had traveled down the street to hear the speakers, and their questions turned the symposium into a virtual focus group on patent databases. And an informal conversation over dinner produced the idea of an independent network of patent information users that could meet and exchange information on a regular basis. (See Fran Rosenthal's reminiscence about the dinner in Columbus).
Although the conception of the Patent Information Users group took place in June, the actual reduction to practice of the idea did not begin until several months later. The trigger was probably the receipt of Derwent subscription renewal forms by Dow Chemical Co, and Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals Inc. Mike Feider and I read the new statement of subscription conditions, and were stunned by the new restrictions we found there. This was only the latest of a series of obstacles to efficient and cost effective patent searching that were of concern to us. Restrictive use and distribution conditions had been published by other database producers and hosts. CAS had recently developed the redundant Agpat and Pharpat databases and the expensive CASReact database. The USPTO was developing the Automated Patent System, which seemed likely to be accessible only to examiners. Mike and I agreed that the time for a patent information users group had come. Mike drafted a letter listing some of the issues and asking whether the recipients would support formation of a patent information users organization. It was mailed on January 4, 1988, to patent information managers at about a dozen major corporations.
Response to the letter was very positive. One of the replies, however, reminded us that the Industrial Technical Information Managers Group (ITMG) already had a patent information committee. This committee, which had formerly been very active, now consisted of Judy Hale of Goodyear, who joined us in making plans for an organizational meeting. A second letter and a letter to the editor published in the May, 1988, issue of Online magazine invited interested parties to attend. Times and locations for meetings became an issue for the first time. It was eventually decided that the inaugural meeting would be held at the Stouffer Concourse Hotel in Crystal City on May 19, 1988, immediately following the IFI Users Conference. Michael Dixon, then the President of Derwent Inc., invited us to join him for dinner on the preceding evening.
Seventeen people attended the meeting, Mike Feider, Nancy Lambert and Pat Dorler agreed to be Chair, Secretary and Treasurer Pro Tem. Our agenda, based on suggestions by Joe DiSalvo, began with organizational and procedural issues. We decided that we would call ourselves the Patent Information Users Group, that our mission would be communication, that the group would be open to individuals (not corporate representatives as was the case for the ITIMG), that employees of database producers and hosts could not be members, that we would meet to discuss issues at least once a year and send letters summarizing our concerns, that we should have a conference board on the DialMail email system for communications among ourselves. Committees were formed to address organizational issues. Then we discussed individual database and host issues and selected someone to write letters to each of the organizations we discussed, and agreed to meet again in a few months. The PIUG now existed, but the constitution and bylaws were yet to be written.
Arranging a second meeting in 1988 was not as easy as was expected. The meeting was held in conjunction with Orbit User Days in Bethesda, Md in September. Although more people had expressed interest in belonging to the group after and article was posted on the Online Chronicle in July, only four people were able to attend, Pat Dorler, Elyse Robinson, Stu Kaback and Fred Morgan. Neither Stud nor Fred had been able to attend the first meeting in May. The group discussed membership requirements and agreed that a small dues payment should be established.
By the time the group met in May of 1989, again in Crystal City after the IFI Users Conference, there was 75 members on the mailing list and 50 of us were using the DialMail Bulleting Board. Twenty-nine members attended the meeting and, not surprisingly, most of the attendees who didn't live within driving distance of Washington combined the PIUG meeting with IFI meeting or a visit to the USPTO public search room. The draft of the constitution and bylaws was in its third revision, and was accepted after additional revisions. We agreed that new officers would be elected after another year, establishing the 2-year term for officers. An official membership application and $10 annual dues were established. Contributions for the first issue of the PIUG newsletter were solicited. It was agreed that we would do a survey of patent database use. The idea of holding training classes for patent searchers was introduced. And we had extensive discussions of database and host issues. And, yet again, we discussed dates and locations for our next meeting that would be suitable for members with small travel budgets.
In a single year, the PIUG had gone from conception to full reduction to practice. And in ten years our aims have changed very little; we are communicating among ourselves and with patent searchers around the world and are influencing patent information providers to an extent we could scarcely have imagined before the advent of the World Wide Web. As discussion of database issues has migrated to the Internet, the focus of our meetings has changed from problem solving to education. Only the problem of finding a suitable time and place for meeting has remained the same.
Joe DiSalvo, Vice-Chair, 1992-94 and former PIUG newsletter editor
My recollections of the kick-off meeting include the following:
- Our concern that database producers and on-line vendors would try to use PIUG meetings as forums to market their wares to us.
- Our deep deliberations over whether we were an organization of individuals or the companies which employed us.
- Our concern over how to cover the cost of the meeting room expense.
Michael Feider, our first Chair, 1988-90
My primary recollections are that a small group of professional patent searchers (primarily from the corporate sector) was feeling very frustrated by
- what appeared to us to be a few technical and/or unresponsive attitudes of a few technical and/or patent database producers and online hosts,
- the inability of the professional patent searching community to present a unified, influential voice in our attempts to discuss important issues with the database producers and online hosts, and
- the inability of professional patent searchers to communicate effectively among ourselves (this was, of course, before the advent of the Internet and facile E-mail capabilities).
I can also remember those first few PIUG meetings held in rented meeting rooms of the Stouffer's Hotel in Crystal City, just across the street from the USPTO. We were very fortunate to be able to hold a number of the subsequent meeting in the IBM offices in Crystal City, and of course, in recent times Derwent had been kind enough to provide accommodations for our meetings in connection with the Derwent North American Subscriber Meetings.
We have, though, come a long way since our first tentative steps ten years ago. Through the dedicated support and cooperation of numerous individual PIUG members and also several of the vendors (I remember especially that Derwent and Chemical Abstracts/STN have provided us assistance with meeting reservations and lunches), we have certainly realized our original objectives of better communication with our peers (now even on a global basis, thanks to the PIUG listserv) and meaningful dialog with most of the database producers and online hosts.
Suzanne Elsoffer, Chair, 1994-1996
It seems like such a short time ago, but I recall that in 1987, several of us who were presenting papers at an ACS meeting in Columbus, OH met during dinner and talked about our unhappiness that people who were primarily devoted to patent information had no home of their own. We also were upset about CAS and its ill-conceived patent files, Agpat and Pharpat. Derwent was working on a Markush system that was causing a lot of consternation among its subscribers. Dialog had searching problems that were not being fixed. We felt that patent information professional acting in concert might have more influence on the development and fate of our vital resources.
And so, a meeting at Souffer's in Crystal City in May 1988 was proposed to be held after the IFI meeting to discuss organizing a group devoted to our interests. I do remember that Stu Kaback, along with other key users could not attend the first meeting and we felt the lack of his input. But we persevered and spent an entire day going through the details of what our mission was, how we wanted to organize ourselves, and what to do about membership. Several people predicted our demise - we would wither away once we understood that the vendors, patent offices, and other information suppliers knew what we needed - but don't bother them with our griping, please.
It was an excruciating process: (1) arguing about bylaws, (2) selecting venues for meeting, (3) defining our membership requirements, (4) having our first seminar under Andy Berk' leadership, who had arranged for selected vendor demonstrations. But under Mike's and Edlyn's lead ships, most of the organizational framework was developed and we proceeded to become what we are today. As memory serves me it was Nancy Lambert who first suggested our name.
I especially remember 1995. While I was Chair I organized a program on the new U.S. Patent Laws and the start of U.S. provisional applications in June of that year. To top it all off, Sandra Unger, Sharon Peterson, and Dick Matula gave presentations about the Internet - we were all so green about cyberspace back then. Mary Ellen Mogee presented the idea of using patent citation information to evaluate technology.
I'm convinced that future Chairs should chant the mantra, "May these be interesting times" to help them with PIUG seminar ideas.