Search Trends in Intellectual Property

Google Trends LogoGoogle Trends is a powerful tool for exploring what people are searching for what what events may or may not have influenced those searches. It has been used to compare everything from various fast food chains, to determining who is getting the most search traction in the Presidential election.

However, it’s time to turn the lens of Google Trends on intellectual property and ask ourselves some questions: What type of intellectual property is most searched for? How have those searches changed over time? What specific issues are searchers interested in?

I decided to play around with Google Trends and take a look at what people are searching for when it comes to intellectual property. The answers were more than a little surprising.

Copyright vs. Trademark vs. Patent

Starting off with the most basic search, I plotted copyright, trademark and patent all on the same graph, looking at a worldwide audience.

From 2004 to the present, patent has always been the most popular type of intellectual property to search for, followed by copyright and then trademark.

However, what is more telling is the way that all three have declined in interest over the years. Though Google Trends is not an indication of search volume, just relative search interest, all three search terms peaked sometime in 2004 and have been in a relatively steady decline since.

While this could be a sign of waning interest in intellectual property issues, it could also be a sign that searchers are more savvy and feel the need to search less for basic terms. Still, it is interesting that the trend continues almost universally, ticking up only slightly in January 2012 for copyright during the SOPA/PIPA protests.

How to Get a…

The trends were very similar for searches on “How to get a (copyright/trademark/patent).” In all cases they were far below their more generic terms, so much so it was impossible to graph, but between these three patent is number one, copyright two and trademark three.

However, the results hold more steady here with the copyright question even ticking up a little bit between 2011 and now.

Still, it seems fare more searchers are wondering how to get a patent than a copyright.

Infringement

When it comes to infringement, copyright is far and away the king.

Though it was close in 2004/2005 between it and patent, since 2007 copyright has opened up a huge lead on the subject of infringement and the gap is only getting wider as patent infringement has tapered off as a search term and copyright infringement has held steady.

It’s pretty clear that, in 2014, people are much more interested in copyright infringement than any other kind of infringement. This makes sense because it’s also the kind of intellectual property the average person may be infringing.

Reform

When it comes to reform, it’s pretty clear searchers are more interested in patent reform above all else. Patent reform reached a peak in 2011 as a bill on patent reform began to make its way through Congress, being signed into law in September.

However, even with that bill in the past, patent reform still trumps both copyright and trademark reform (the latter of which is virtually impossible to display). This is somewhat surprising as a review of copyright law is currently ongoing, setting the stage for potential reform in the coming years.

Lawsuit

Once again, patent is king of the mountain but the search intensity has been about the same since 2009 across all three categories. The exception being in August of 2012 when a jury awarded Apple $1 billion in a patent lawsuit against Samsung, which caused searched for “patent lawsuit” to skyrocket during that time.

Other than that, it’s been fairly neck-and-neck between copyright and patent in this area though patent has held a consistent edge.

Law

Those interested in learning about intellectual property law seemed to favor copyright over all other types. Though the trend for copyright has been consistently downward for all three since 2004, copyright continues to edge out patent leaving trademark a distant third.

The trend remained the same despite all of the major news stories, including the Apple/Samsung ruling, the SOPA/PIPA protests and the current copyright hearings.

Information

Those looking for “information” on intellectual property followed a similar pattern as those who sought the law. Though the trends were down across the board since 2005, most were searching for copyright information followed by patent and trademark.

While there was a definite spike in those seeking copyright information in late 2004, it’s unclear what caused it. Other than that, the trends have remained relatively flat.

(Note: “Information” performed better than “Info”, which is why I used it.)

Finally, those looking for protection on various types of intellectual property still favor copyright, but not as much as they did 9 years ago. The trend in “copyright protection” has been downward since Google Trends started tracking but is still significantly ahead of patent and trademark.

As such, those sites that are targets for copyright protection searches are likely doing better than their counterparts.

Bottom Line

When it comes to overall trends, there were three that I noticed.

  1. Declining Search Interest: In almost every case, intellectual property searches make up a smaller percentage of searches today than they did 9-10 years ago. While that doesn’t indicate anything about search volume, it’s clear that fewer people percentage wise are searching for these terms.
  2. Trademark is Third: In all of the searches I performed, the ones above and others, trademark was consistently third. It seems trademark isn’t of strong public interest, likely due to a lack of controversy about it and the fact it doesn’t routinely intersect the lives of many people.
  3. Copyright and Patent Vie for First: Interest in patent law must be very high among the public as it was tops among most searches, however, for some terms such as infringement and law, copyright took first place. While it’s no surprise that these are the two ares of intellectual property law that the public is the most interested in, I’d honestly expected copyright to be in the lead on more terms.

The biggest surprise to me was that fewer people, as a percentage of the whole, are interested in intellectual issues. These trends held true when looking both at global patterns and U.S. patterns, meaning that it isn’t just greater internationalization of the Web causing it.

But, then again, maybe it isn’t so surprising. After all, it was the early 2000s that was the era of Napster, the RIAA file sharing lawsuits and countless other controversies. Though copyright has remained a source of news on the Web, it hasn’t enjoyed quite much mainstream media focus and that trend is continuing as privacy, net neutrality and other issues vie for the spotlight.

Still, intellectual property isn’t going anywhere as a hot button issue. While it’s fighting for attention in a more crowded space, as the SOPA/PIPA protests and the Apple/Samsung ruling show, it’s only one headline away form being at the forefront of the public’s attention.