Materials scientist Mike Viola used to spend countless hours thumbing through volumes of The Official Gazette of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. As manager of product technology for Hyperion Catalysis International Inc., a startup chemical company in Lexington, Mass., Viola is responsible for keeping current with technical developments in Hyperion's line of business, commercializing graphitic microfi-bers such as those used in batteries and adhesive plastics. So each week, when a new, 1,000-page volume of the gazette arrived from the patent office, Viola would search--page by page, patent number by patent number--for those patents of importance to him. When he was finished, he would place the volume alongside the more than 50 back issues he kept on hand in his office, unlikely to open it again.

In the five years that CD-ROM products have been available, no one publisher has emerged as the leading marketer of disks for the...

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