How to Conduct a Patent Search Online

How to Conduct a Patent Search Online

Date: November 27, 2007

For an inventor, conducting a patent search is one of the most important steps in preparing to patent an invention. It is fundamental in determining the similarity of your idea to the ideas of past innovators and in ensuring you have a thoroughly researched and documented patent application. Luckily, there are a couple of online resources that make patent searching both convenient and easy.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) offers the most comprehensive and precise collection of past patents available for review online. These entries date back as early as 1790 and offer descriptions and, in many entries, images of the invention. This directory, however, requires a few searching techniques to accurately find information that you are looking for.

According to the experts at, there are three different ways to search for a patent in the USPTO search database. The first and simplest way begins with a patent number search. Patent numbers can be found on various patented inventions, on its packaging, or in its instruction manual. In most cases this patent number will be in a standard number format with comma separators but, depending on the type of patent, may begin with letters.

In this search, all you must do is enter the number in the “query” field and press “search.” The results page will contain the patent entry for that number. Not only is this process extremely easy, but it is also the most thorough. A search conducted by patent number allows the oldest online searches in the USPTO database and is the only search that goes back further than 20 years.

A search by patent number usually works great, unless you don’t know the patent number of the invention. In that case, a search by inventor’s name might be a better option. If you know the first and last name of the inventor, this type of search is easy as long as you know how to format the query. The proper way is: in/lastname-firstname-$, where “$” means any middle name. If you know the middle name of the inventor, replace the “$” with that. The results for this type of search will list the inventions by any inventor with that name. On a side note, this method will not be as accurate for extremely common names.

The last and most general method of searching for patents on the USPTO database is by keyword. This method allows an inventor to easily use words that relate to their idea to find similar prior inventions. You must first begin with a thorough list of words that relate to the types of inventions you are looking for. Then, narrow down the list to one or two words that you feel best uniquely describe what you are looking for. Enter the first word into “field 1” and, if you have one, the second into “field 2.” Then, if you used more than one word, you must specify how you would like the search to relate those words by using “and,” “or,” or “andnot” from the dropdown list. You may also use keyword phrases by inserting quotation marks around a phrase. This may yield more precise results.

The results, however, will not be nearly as specific as the previous two types of patent searches. You will most likely have a long list of entries that will need to be picked through to find what you are truly looking for. If you are looking for a particular patent, try to stick to the other searches.

While these are the most traditional ways to conduct online patent searches, a new, more convenient method has become available through search giant Google. They have recently launched a website called Google Patent Search. According to Google, this search engine holds detailed information for around 7 million patents and also includes simple searches for patents older than 20 years, unlike those on the USPTO search page. All of the inventions are cataloged and hosted on Google webpages which allows for uniform entries and an easily searchable database. Also, all information is obtained from USPTO records to ensure accurate entries. For those who like more traditional USPTO information, the Google patent search entries actually have links to their corresponding USPTO entries.

The methods of searching on the Google site are extremely straightforward. The simple search on the Google Patent Search homepage is run like any Google site, allowing keyword entry and results listed by relevance. If you have more specific information such as patent number or inventor’s name, a specific search can be performed from the advanced search page. This search engine has made the patent search process extremely quick and simple.

Patent searches are extremely beneficial to an innovator’s goal of patenting an invention. The painstaking process, while sometimes a hassle, can be very important in determining whether or not an invention truly is a novel idea. Just stick with these resources and this overwhelming process will undoubtedly be made much simpler.

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