Some tips on patent searching
Conducting an initial patent search can often be very beneficial for an inventor in order to get an idea of whether the invention is indeed new, or whether something similar has already been patented or published. This may help you decide not only whether it is worth to contact a patent professional to get more assistance with your application, but it can also help you “refine” your invention and possibly give you ideas for new and improved features. However, it can often be difficult to know where to start looking, so here are four websites that I recommend as good starting points for your patent search.
The USPTO website has a wealth of information about how to conduct patent searches and a list of various tools to use. Most of this information can be found at: http://www.uspto.gov/patents-application-process/search-patents I find the USPTO’s online search engine a little slow and irritating to use, primarily since you have to use two separate databases to search patents and published patent applications, respectively. I therefore recommend to use the USPTO site as a source for “general guidelines,” and to conduct the actual search using a different search engine.
Espacenet is a search engine offered by the European Patent Office (EPO) and can be found at http://worldwide.espacenet.com It covers over 90 million patent publications worldwide, and can be run in three different “modes;” a “smart search” mode, an “advanced search” mode and a “classification search” mode.” It is probably the most comprehensive search engine of the ones listed here, but that’s only my guess.
- Google Patents
Google Patents http://patents.google.com includes patent applications and granted patents from the USPTO, EPO, WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization), German Patent Office (DPMA), Chinese Intellectual Propoerty Office (SIPO) and the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). I find the search interface easy and intuitive to use. In addition, it allows you to add non-patent literature searches through Google Scholar. Another nice feature is that foreign patents are machine-translated into English, so you can do keyword searches in English even if a patent is written in a foreign language.
- FreePatents online
FreePatentsOnline http://www.freepatentsonline.com/ is a website that contains a large amount of resources for patent searching and about patents in general. It has slightly different coverage than the other search engines above, and also provides blogs, discussion forums, tips on patent searching, etc. One thing I like is that you get a “relevancy score” along with each search results, which helps you determine which references are likely to be more important.
An important thing to keep in mind is that no matter how good of a patent searcher you are, there will be a “blindspot,” since applications do not publish until 18 months have passed from their filing date (or more correctly, priority date). That is, if you conduct a search on January 1, 2016, you will only be able to see applications that were filed (or claim priority to an application filed) approximately before July 1, 2014. If the inventor has filed a non-publication request, her application may not even publish until it is granted and issued as a patent. So no matter how well you conduct your search, you can never be 100% sure that there is not something similar to your invention, but at least you should be able to get a pretty good idea of the lay of the land.
When analyzing your search results, you may notice that it can often be difficult to determine exactly what is covered by the claims and what is otherwise disclosed in the specification. This is completely natural and nothing to worry about. However, since you likely will be making a very important decision based on this information, it is always a good idea to contact a patent professional who has experience in reading patents and can help explain the situation to you in “plain language” so you can make the right decision.
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Fredrik Mollborn has been helping companies protect their intellectual assets since 1997 in the U.S. and abroad. If you are looking to secure your intellectual property, reach out to Mollborn Patents for a consultation.