If you’ve come across Schrödinger's cat, you’ll know it to be a famous thought experiment, devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935.

Schrödinger sought to illustrate what he saw as the problem of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics applied to everyday objects using the analogy of a cat locked in a steel chamber. The cat’s life or death depended on a radioactive atom and whether it had decayed and emitted radiation or not. Schrödinger suggested that the cat could be simultaneously both alive and dead - a state he likened to quantum superposition – because the cat’s mortality was linked to a random subatomic event that may or may not occur.

Einstein was impressed by Schrödinger’s thought experiment and wrote to him in 1950:

You are the only contemporary physicist, who sees that one cannot get around the assumption of reality, if only one is honest. Most of them simply do not see what sort of risky game they are playing with reality—reality as something independent of what is experimentally established. Their interpretation is, however, refuted most elegantly by your system of radioactive atom + amplifier + charge of gunpowder + cat in a box, in which the psi-function of the system contains both the cat alive and blown to bits. Nobody really doubts that the presence or absence of the cat is something independent of the act of observation.

Finding the Truth in Patent Search

But what has this got to do with patent search? The paradox that is central to the story of Schrödinger’s cat is also true of patent search. When the outcome sought is the truth, how can one discern it from what is essentially multiple potential truths. The search customer will base their legal and business decisions on the version of the truth that is evidenced by their search results. It is only when another version of the truth is surfaced – perhaps by a competitor’s challenge – that their reality shifts.

For patent search this highlights the importance of the trust placed in the search provider and the search product. The life (and potential death) of an idea or innovation can rest on the quality of each and every search report that underpins decision-making around the IP in question. The ability of a search provider to reveal the most robust version of the truth is therefore critical to establishing a strong foundation upon which to base onward decisions.

Product owners and business leaders base the health and success of their organisations on these decisions. When faced with this ‘risky game’, it pays to know that your trust in your search provider is founded on the best possible evidence.

• Does your search provider have the technical expertise and regional market awareness you need to support you when and where you need it?

• Can your search provider evidence sufficient scale for you to be confident that your search is receiving all the attention it deserves?

• Is your search provider investing in the very best tools, training and resources to ensure every output achieves a world-class standard?

• Does your search provider have a heritage of process excellence and the ability to approach your search creatively, making them able to go the extra mile in pursuit of the prior art you need?

• Will your search provider be able to conduct native language searches to make sure that none of the detail that supports your decision-making is lost in translation?

Here at CPA Global, we encourage customers to ask these challenging questions of their current search providers – because we understand that in ‘life or death’ business decisions, nothing should be left to chance.

Read more about the challenges facing patent search today, and how researchers are adapting methodologies to ensure they uncover the most important truths in our blog titled Search under siege.