The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office partnered with Google in a zero-dollar partnership that provided greatly increased access to Patent information including grants, published applications, assignments, classification information, and maintenance fee events and Trademark information including registrations, applications, assignments, and TTAB proceedings.
Some of this data was available before the partnership in the form of DVDs or tapes that could be purchased. Much of this information, however, was simply unavailable to any outside users and in many cases was essentially inaccessible to users inside of the patent office.
Google provides a search service for all this information. However, as part of the agreement with USPTO, Google also provides bulk access to all this information to any other organizations that wish to put together a search service. Many “competitors” to the Google patent search service use the bulk access capability to create their own databases of patent information. We say competitors in quotes because (as noted below in section 2), it turns out that providing bulk access to all on a nondiscriminatory basis is a classic win-win that helps everybody, proving that artificial restrictions on public data are not necessary in order to entice partners to help the government.