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Docket Alarm - a review of PTAB Trials

What is Docket Alarm? This may be a new company to some. But they are a veteran in this space. Docket Alarm began around 2011 as an alert service for litigation decisions, including patent cases. What makes them a bit different from Docket Navigator (see our previous review), is that they also provide search capabilities of PACER. This difference expands a litigation search beyond patent cases to any other litigation filed in federal court. I stumbled across Docket Alarm in mid-2014. Docket Alarm promotes the following

Docket Alarm runs full-text searches across millions of law-suits and can deliver real-time alerts to your inbox or mobile device.

How does Docket Alarm measure up? We're going to evaluate Docket Alarm in the same way we reviewed Docket Navigator. Let's see how Docket Alarm handles the ever-growing filings for PTAB Trials at the Patent & Trademark Office.  

Here are the five criteria:

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

As a recap, we based our criteria on a presentation by Diana Koppang of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP in February 2014. The presentation can be found here. The presentation addresses many different things. Items include database date ranges, update delay, non-precedential decisions, full-text search, complete vs. select filings, and BPAI decisions (appeals). Other items consider ability to set alerts, alert delay time, new case filings, docket tracking and frequency options.

We decided to compress those items into a smaller set, simplifying things. Let's take a look at the Docket Alarm service as of March 2015 against that set.

1. Search

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

Docket Alarm relies on full-text search with search results narrowed by filters. Full-text search can be based on phrases or boolean-based operators. The information is updated at least daily and with database updates seemingly happening throughout the day. The database also appears to leverage metadata from the PTAB involving the parties, filing types, and other information ingested from the PTAB. 

Full-text searching is enhanced by filters. You run a search, get a list of results, and you can pare down those results by clicking different filters. The filters help you quickly focus your search in key areas without having to retype your search. This is particularly helpful when you already know what document you're looking for and just need to find it in the list of results.

Although Docket Alarm offers full-text search, that doesn't mean that every PTAB document is capable of being searched for. Here's what we know. If Docket Alarm shows what it calls a "snippet" when hovering over a document link, the document has been run through OCR. Not all documents have a "snippet" roll-over. We've confirmed through evaluation of different documents that not every document is full-text searchable. This seems mainly limited to PTAB Trial Exhibits. So exhibit items like file histories, articles or portions of books may not be text searchable. Docket Alarm does have a clever side process whereby once a user clicks a non-OCR'd document, that document is put into a queue for OCR processing. At some point in the future, the document will be text searchable.

2. Coverage

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

As expected, Docket Alarm gets a top grade here. It has every filing at the Patent Trial & Appeal Board for the user. As we spoke about in our other review, the main structure of the PTAB is based on a patent number. Docket Alarm can identify for you any PTAB filing or  litigated case using the patent number. If you want to look at the patent being challenged in a PTAB proceeding, you can find it by pulling up the PTAB docket history and look at the patent - typically an exhibit to the PTAB petition. Although there's also no direct linkage between a PTAB proceeding and a litigated case, you can search both at the same time. But this is a review of PTAB proceedings, and Docket Alarm has everything available from the PTO's Patent Review Processing System (PRPS).

3. Speed

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

For speed, Docket Alarm used to be fairly snappy. Over at least the last month or so, subjectively speaking, it seems to have slowed down. What do we mean by that? Docket Alarm used to feel faster. Type in a query, even just an IPR number, and the search results appeared fairly quickly on the screen. I never actually ran a stop watch on this process before, so I have no data to compare current performance against the past.

But now it takes 5+ seconds for a mundane query like an IPR number. This has been verified on two Macs and one PC, at different times of day over several days. For a single search, this isn't an issue at all. If you are running multiple, successive queries though, this delay becomes a bit tedious. Clicking on a document from the results screen or docket history screen does render the document viewable fairly quickly. This critique is really applicable to to the time it takes to display search results.

This is a minor issue because Docket Alarm, at least to me, is subjectively faster than most of the e-discovery software you might be using today. Search and document viewing is not a terrible bottleneck. Both just seem somewhat sluggish. 

Performance is always an issue when a system expands in content and features. Search result speed may just be a temporary hiccup as Docket Alarm scales.

4. Downstream Impact

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

Docket Alarm provides a small handful of "downstream" tools for the user. You would expect Docket Alarm to allow a user to download a selected document. And of course it does that in a fast, efficient manner. Docket Alarm even goes a step further with a "citations" feature. Users can copy to a clipboard, at the press of a button, a citation for the document. Below you can see how simple it is to clip a citation and the resulting text string that can be pasted by the user.

IPR2014-00140, No. 13 Final Decision - Judgment (P.T.A.B. Jun. 20, 2014) (available at

Docket Alarm doesn't fill the void for a feature that's lacking from other PTAB services - downloading more than a single document at a time. Docket Alarm doesn't have this feature either. Documents must be downloaded one at a time. Docket Alarm does allow you to "track" specific PTAB dockets, potentially eliminating the need to download each document in a proceeding.

As with other PTAB services we're evaluating, Docket Alarm doesn't offer much more beyond searching for a document or researching an issue in a PTAB proceeding. After completing a search and downloading documents, the user is on her own.  A user can't annotate or comment in a document to show what's important in a decision. And there's no way to save a document within Docket Alarm beyond the "tracking" feature we mentioned earlier.

A user can, however, save a search and be updated with those search results by email or within the user's account. That's included as a standard feature at no additional charge if you have a monthly flat rate account. 

All of these functions, other than "citations", 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 it's important. The citation feature does allow you to send a URL to a non-Docket Alarm subscriber, but the non-subscriber can only view five documents per week without a subscription. Basically, after the research is complete, the user would continue to work on a project using other tools or systems separate from Docket Alarm.

5. Alerts/Analytics

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

Here Docket Alarm provides you just about everything you would need. Docket Alarm has a number of different frequency and delivery settings for alerts. These are set using search criteria. The alerts can be emailed to you or appear on the main page of your account.

Docket Alarm also offers statistical summaries with color-coded outcome paths. These are framed as questions based on categories including trends, judges, technology areas, and other criteria. There's not really anything to project future trends, merely a reporting about the past.

Also, while there is a question stylized as "What Are My Chances of Winning?", there's no merits-based assessment of why an outcome was successful or unsuccessful. To me at least, this is basically a statistical summary of what happened in the past for other parties, involving different patents, applying distinct prior art, and appearing before a specific judge. You do, however, have the ability to drill down into the underlying decisions in some ways. So you can at least explore the merits on your own. Like other companies approaching analytics, there still needs to be ways to consider why the statistics trend in a particular direction.

Overall Assessment

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

Docket Alarm is a good service. I've personally been a user for about 7 or 8 months. My primary usage is researching PTAB proceedings. I don't really use many of the other features. I pay for the service out of my own pocket. My current law firm is not a subscriber.


For Search (score = 8): I personally prefer full-text search and the ability to use boolean search as needed. Docket Alarm does this well. Filters help narrow the results down. I've recently begun playing around with in-document search, but I really don't like the new document viewer compared to their previous one. These days, everything is a tradeoff.

For Coverage (score = 10): Docket Alarm of course has everything the PTAB makes available - IPRs, CBMs, a docket list, plus a way to get at related litigations.

For Speed (score = 5.5): Docket Alarm gets an average grade. Not the fastest for search, but slightly above average time to display a document. The service does seem to be a bit slower than I remember. I'm not sure if this relates to some of the recent updates. Maybe the system is undergoing some scaling issues that need to be fine-tuned? Waiting 5+ seconds for search results is just not what we've come to expect to as consumers. Has Google ruined our expectations?

For Downstream Impact (score = 4): Other than saving search terms and the nifty citation extraction feature, there's not a rich feature set here beyond search for a user. But this is a research service. And with that in mind, it works. It's much easier to search for and look at information using Docket Alarm instead of at the PTAB using PRPS. If you want to store documents, there are alternatives like Dropbox or Box.

For Alerts/Analytics (score = 7): Alerts using Docket Alarm is certainly functional and informative. I use another service for alerts, mainly out of habit. There are a wide variety of services that offer different alerts for different data sets. This all comes down to preference. I do like that alerts can be embedded into your account for review once you login. That's a nice touch. For Analytics, this feature is framed as a series of questions, presumably to make it easier for the user to decide what aspect of analytics to look at. It works well as designed and has all the basics. You get the typical information you're looking for, and can drill down in some ways. There's not a lot of curated information to analyze to blend into the PTAB meta data, that's why the score is where it is.

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