One of the most common obstacles facing the new inventor is how to conduct a patent search. There are many reasons why an inventor would want to do this. The most obvious reason is to justify spending a great deal of time and money on an invention by determining that no one else has patented it. You may even have a specific patent number that you want to investigate further for any similarities to your project. Whatever the reason may be, the ins and outs of conducting a patent search are not always obvious. In this guide, we will explain how to do so in easy to follow steps.
How to Conduct a Patent Search Video
How to Conduct a Patent Search Step One:
Narrow your search to a 5-15 very specific names.
This is a crucial yet oft-overlooked step in the patent search process. Before running any type of search, anywhere, you need to narrow your search to a handful of very specific names. This is because the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) demands specificity. The vaguer a patent is the more control the holder can exercise over the market. Therefore, there is an immense burden on patent applicants to be as narrow and specific about the nature of their patent as possible. You need to heed this fact when running a patent search. For example, if the patent you are looking for pertains to an online shopping database that ties a user’s shopping preferences to his shopping history, running a search for “online shopping database” is almost pointless in this context. It will return more results than you could possibly screen, and few if any will be relevant to what you are looking for.
Instead, a much better search would be something like “online shopping history based matching metrics.” The closer you can get to describing what the patent truly protects, the more helpful your search results will be. Simply think long and hard about what you are looking for and come up with 5-15 very specific potential names for it. These are the names you will use to conduct your search.
How to Conduct a Patent Search Step Two:
Run the search via the USPTO’s official website.
It used to be that the only way to run a patent search was hiring a patent attorney. Prior to the advent of the Internet, these attorneys had a near exclusive monopoly on running searches and doing all manner of patent-related work. Fortunately, this is no longer the case. Anyone who wants to run a patent search can visit the USPTO website and do so in a simple, self-service fashion.
There are a couple of options at this page that you can use depending on your exact needs. If you just want to run a cursory search for the patent you have in mind, the Quick Search will work wonders. From here, you can type in two descriptive terms and specify the years between which you would like to search: either 1976 to the present or 1790 to the present. Now, common sense will go a long way towards making your life easier in this regard. If the patent you are searching for is in any way high-tech, you can filter out a lot of irrelevant results by choosing the “1976 to the present” option. However, if your invention is timeless or mechanical in nature, the full “1790 to the present” option is probably best.
You can also drill down into the patent database for the exact type of information you want. Clicking the “All Fields” drop-down menu turns up a cavalcade of search options. You can search for the abstract, the issue date, patent number, assignee name and city, and about a dozen other options.
However, what if you already have a patent number and just want to see information about what it pertains to? This link takes you straight to a patent number search. Just key in the number and click “Search” to find the full text of the patent in question.
Now, you may notice in using these pages that the USPTO’s website is not the most user-friendly resource out there. Luckily, there is an easier way: Google Patent Search. The reason we covered the USPTO’s site first (or at all) rather than Google is because this is the official first source of all patent-related data. While Google is by all counts reliable, you should use the USPTO’s site if there are any worries about gaps in the patent records you are seeking.
How to Conduct a Patent Search Step 3:
Use Google Patent Search
Google Patent Search is a beta service that combines the easy searching of Google with the patent data from the USPTO. That is the true beauty of using Google instead of the USPTO: your search results and patent profiles are significantly cleaner, more readable and easier on the eyes.
As a demonstration, we will run a search for the patent on the electrophotographic copier, or “copy machine.”
As you can see, the page is very helpfully divided up into distinct sections, making it easy for you to find the information you are interested it. You can choose to download the whole patent, view it as an Adobe PDF document, or even click a direct link to the USPTO’s record. On this same page, you can also view the patent’s list of citations, the claims it makes, and the drawings the patent holder accompanied with his patent application. Again, while these things can be found at the USPTO site, those unfamiliar with patent records will waste hours looking for what Google organizes so readily.
There you have it: three simple steps to conducting a patent search. Above all, remember that the more specific your searches are, the more likely you are to find the patent you want – or – the more justification you will have to conclude that no one has your patent, if the search comes up empty. Good luck!
Eric Corl is the Founder and CEO of IdeaBuyer.com, a marketplace for new technology and products that gives inventors the opportunity to showcase their intellectual property to consumer product companies, entrepreneurs, retailers, and manufacturers. You can email him at EricCorl@IdeaBuyer.com. You can visit the site by clicking here > Patents for Sale.
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