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Docket Navigator - a review of PTAB Trials

What is Docket Navigator? Most of you reading this post probably have heard of Docket Navigator. The service started in 2008 as an alert service for patent litigation decisions. It also told us about just-filed patent litigation cases. An associate at Howrey told me about it in 2009 and that's when I first subscribed. Docket Navigator still describes itself as

... a set of powerful research and reporting tools for high stakes litigation.

How does Docket Navigator help with research and reports about patent disputes? Let's take a stab and look at how Docket Navigator handles the ever-growing filings for PTAB Trials at the Patent & Trademark Office.  

We're going to apply five criteria:

  1. Search
  2. Coverage
  3. Speed
  4. Downstream Impact
  5. Alerts/Analytics

We based our criteria on a presentation by Diana Koppang of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP in February 2014. The presentation is also here. The presentation considers so many different things. Things like database date ranges, update delay, non-precedential decisions, full-text search, complete vs. select filings, and BPAI decisions (appeals). Other items include ability to set alerts, alert delay time, new case filings, docket tracking and frequency options.

That's a lot of stuff. So we've compressed the items into a manageable set and looked at the Docket Navigator service as of March 2015 against that set.

1. Search

Criteria Description: full-text search; categorized search fields; filters; exhibit content search

Docket Navigator search is powered by curated search fields. The search fields are selected by a seemingly strong team of legal professionals all situated in Texas. The curation team categories PTAB decisions/orders, filings by patent owner, and filings by petitioner. The information is updated nightly and presumably throughout the day. It makes its way into a structured database. The database is organized by defined search fields within a category. Basically to allow a user to retrieve documents satisfying the search criteria. 

Full-text searching at the document level doesn't seem to exist. The user first selects a category and inputs search criteria into a category form field. Search criteria is then matched for that category. A user could alternatively use a dropdown to select from fields in a category to run a search.

Category hits can also be used as filters to narrow results. You still can't search what's in an exhibit. But don't worry, Docket Navigator does provide every exhibit for each PTAB Trial proceeding (other than non-public exhibits). It would be interesting to search exhibits and narrow by the categories Docket Navigator offers. This might help a user just a bit more.

2. Coverage

Criteria Description: all filings; all orders; selected filings; summaries of filings

For this criteria, Docket Navigator is superb. Every filing at the Patent Trial & Appeal Board is made available to the user. The main structure for PTAB proceedings revolves around the patent number. This makes sense because Docket Navigator also organizes patent litigation cases. One common link between patent cases and PTAB Trials is of course a patent number. For certain PTABs, Docket Navigator also includes the File Wrapper (file history) for the challenged patent. If there's a related PTAB proceeding for a patent, that's shown as well. 

Docket Navigator also curates claims challenged, grounds considered in the petition, petition result, and claim constructions.

3. Speed

Criteria Description: document download speed; retrieval of search results; retrieval and display of document; on-screen document scrolling

For speed, Docket Navigator is subjectively average. Not very fast, but not too slow. Search results are returned fairly quickly. Download speed is OK.

Where Docket Navigator comes up a bit short is viewing a document. For example, in the screen to the right, there are two types of PDF icons. One icon represents a PDF immediately available from Docket Navigator. A second PDF icon (downward pointing arrow) indicates that Docket Navigator must get the document from somewhere else before showing it. This added step, for each fetched document, took anywhere from 10-20 seconds. Depending on the number of files (and file size) a user tries to look at, this can become frustrating. Browser based scrolling of large files includes some stutter. This could be browser performance or because of a strange PDF variant uploaded by one of the parties.

4. Downstream Impact

Criteria Description: sharing options; annotations; repositories; linkage to other pertinent information

Docket Navigator offers minimal "downstream" tools for the user. Basically nothing more than a list of results and the ability to download a selected document. A basic feature that's a bit frustrating - how do I download more than a single document at a time?

At a higher level, Docket Navigator does let you search for a document or "research" an issue in a PTAB proceeding. After that, the user is on her own.  A user can't annotate a document to show what's important in a decision. And there is no way to save a document within Docket Navigator.

A user can, however, save search parameters in different ways. By using the features "Share Result", "Print Friendly", Create Alert" and "Create Bookmark", a user can preserve what is being researched.

The print friendly option shows a screen of results that can be printed to PDF, presumably for emailing. The share result feature creates an email for another user to receive to get the same search parameters into his account. The create alert and create bookmark functions allow a rerun of searches for a user and to preserve/share the search parameters, respectively.

All of these functions, other than print friendly, merely preserve the state of the research session. There's no real mechanism to remind yourself or tell someone else that what you found is important or why its important. After searching is complete, the user will continue on with the project away from Docket Navigator.

5. Alerts/Analytics

Criteria Description: alert settings; email alert summaries; high level infographics; statistical summaries by time period or issue

Here Docket Navigator really shines. Docket Navigator has a number of different alert settings. These can be by issue, party, or seemingly any parameters for PTAB Trials. Alerts can be emailed to you or directed to some other registered user. Docket Navigator also offers statistical summaries with colorful overlays. There's not really anything to suggest different trends, merely a reporting about the past. You can't really drill down into the data in a meaningful way. As with a number of companies starting down the analytics path, there still needs to be a way to figure out why the statistics point in a particular direction.

One pet peeve -- email formatting sometimes appears messed up on some midday alerts on the iPhone.

Overall Assessment

Overall (from 1 to 10): a very solid score of 7.0 for the Docket Navigator PTAB Trials research tool.

Docket Navigator is a solid offering. I've personally been a user for more than six years. My primary usage is the daily case listings and the occasional review of different court decisions. I paid for the service out of my own pocket when I was at Howrey. My current law firm picks up the tab for Docket Navigator these days.


For Search (score = 7): I personally prefer full-text search rather than category-based searching. Categorized results remind me of Keynote research using books back in the law school library. Plus categorized results rely on a person to expertly curate the information. Here, I don't think Docket Navigator makes many mistakes, if any, but I've grown used to full-text search. There's also untapped information in exhibits that could be exposed.

For Coverage (score = 10): Docket Navigator has everything you would expect - IPRs, CBMs, patents, some file histories, and a docket list, plus a way to get at related proceedings.

For Speed (score = 6): Docket Navigator gets a middling grade. Not the fastest. Maybe a hardware upgrade could improve things. Or maybe I'm just a bit picky that I have to wait at least 10-20 seconds for some documents that need to be fetched before viewing.

For Downstream Impact (score = 3): Other than saving search parameters or distributing them, there's not much here. But this is a research tool. And they get that right. They curate information so their users don't have to. If you want a repository, there's always Dropbox or Box.

For Alerts/Analytics (score = 7.5): Alerts is where Docket Navigator shines. It's why I signed up back in 2009 and why I still use the service. You don't even have to visit the site unless you need to look at an actual document. Everything gets pushed to you. Minor downside is that iPhone email formatting sometimes is wonky. And with Analytics (beta), this is probably a little better than just the beta label. They have all the basics. Maybe you can't dig too deep into why the statistics are what they are, but you have some basic information. Analytics will get better and better with time. Docket Navigator has so much curated data, how could it not?

[Editor's Note: This is the first of a multi-part series covering services that deliver PTAB decisions and filings; here is the second part of our review series covering Docket Alarm and the third part of our review series covering Lex Machina.]