An Explanation of Patent Searches

Patent searches are an essential component of the patenting process, allowing for analysis of the patentability of an invention. Filing a utility patent application is a significant investment of time and resources. It is important to evaluate the patentability of inventions before any patent applications are filed. Patent searching involves finding and scrutinizing existing patents, published patent applications, and other public information, establishing a basis for determining if an invention is novel and non-obvious. Searching patents and patent applications can also ascertain potential infringement risks and the landscape of competitors in the same technology space. Inventors and businesses developing new technologies should understand the need for patentability analyses and the services, tools, and strategies that are used in such due diligence.

What is "prior art"?

Under U.S. Patent Law, any evidence that an invention is already publicly known before the effective filing date of a patent application is prior art that can be cited to reject the application. This includes any public knowledge, publications, or resources that disclose the invention or elements of it. Such documents and information can be found in various forms such as US and foreign patents, US and foreign patent publications, non-patent literature (which includes scientific literature, journals, books, and records), and any other public disclosures, such as videos, audio recordings, public demonstrations, and presentations. When such documents and information disclose the invention or technology that is highly related to the invention, they can render the invention unpatentable. The most commonly found examples include:

  1. Scientific Literature: Research articles published in a journal before the publication date of the patent application can render an invention unpatentable. If a journal article describes a similar invention, it could prevent the invention from being patented.

  2. Technical and Trade Literature: Documents such as technical reports, trade show pamphlets, product manuals, and white papers can also be considered by USPTO during examination.

  3. Granted Patents and Published Applications: Any previously granted patents or published applications that disclose the invention or related technology can be a basis for the USPTO to reject a patent application.

Additionally, prior art can include materials in foreign languages. Foreign language documents present practical issues in conducting a thorough patent search. However, the recent development of accurate machine translations has been helpful in understanding the content and relevance of foreign language documents. During the examination process, patent examiners search various records to assess whether there are relevant documents that render an invention unpatentable. It is therefore important that a thorough search and patentability analysis is conducted before a patent application is filed.

Types of Patent Searches

  1. Patentability Search: These searches are conducted to determine if an invention is new and inventive before filing a patent application. It involves searching through databases to find patents, patent publications, and other public information that might affect the patentability of the invention. The search is conducted to find any existing documents, patents, or other public disclosures that disclose the invention or related technology.

  2. Patent Clearance Search: Also known as a freedom-to-operate search, this search assesses whether a product or process infringes on existing patents. It helps businesses avoid potential legal disputes and infringement lawsuits before a product or service is introduced into the market.

  3. Patent Landscape Analysis: This search provides a comprehensive overview of the patenting activity in a specific technological area. It helps businesses understand the competitive landscape and identify potential opportunities and threats.

Conducting a Patent Search

The search can be conducted using various tools and databases. Here are some essential steps and strategies for conducting an effective search:

  1. Keyword Selection: Selecting the right keywords is crucial for an effective patent search. Use a combination of technical terms, synonyms, and related concepts to cover all possible variations of the invention.

  2. Use Patent Databases: Utilize reliable patent databases such as those provided by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), European Patent Office (EPO), and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). These databases provide comprehensive patent information from various jurisdictions.

  3. Advanced Search Techniques: Use advanced search techniques such as Boolean operators, classification codes, and citation analysis to refine the search. Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) help in combining or excluding keywords, while classification codes (such as IPC, CPC) categorize patents based on technology areas. Citation analysis can also be useful. Analyzing citation data, which is prior art cited in related patents and patent applications, can uncover additional relevant documents.

  4. Analyze Search Results: Carefully review the search results to identify relevant patents and other public documents and information. Pay attention to the claims, descriptions, and drawings to understand the scope of existing patents.

  5. Common Citation Document: Identify common citation documents that are frequently cited in multiple related patents to understand the foundational prior art in a technological field.

  6. Patent Family Investigation: Investigate the patent family of relevant patents. A patent family is a set of patents filed in multiple jurisdictions to protect the same invention. Evaluating all family members can provide insight into the scope and geographical coverage of related patents.

  7. Professional Search Services: Consider hiring a patent attorney for complex searches. Patent attorneys have the knowledge and experience to conduct thorough searches and provide detailed and accurate analysis.

Tools and Databases for Patent Searching

Various tools and databases are available to facilitate patent searching, including free access tools offered by various patent offices on the web. These databases should be consulted in a thorough search. Here are some popular options:

  1. USPTO Search: The United States Patent and Trademark Office provides a comprehensive, open access database of US patents and published patent applications. It offers advanced search features and access to full-text patent documents.

  2. EPO Espacenet: Espacenet, provided by the European Patent Office, is a powerful search tool that offers access to over 120 million patent documents from around the world. It provides advanced search options and links to full-text documents.

  3. WIPO Patentscope: Patentscope, provided by the World Intellectual Property Organization, offers access to international patent documents from various countries. It provides advanced search features and multilingual search options.

  4. Google Patents: Google Patents is a user-friendly patent search tool that allows users to search for patent documents from multiple jurisdictions. It provides advanced search options and access to full-text patent documents.

  5. Proprietary Software: Various patent search software tools are available that offer advanced search features, analytics, and reporting capabilities (for example, Lexis Nexis). These tools help streamline the search process and provide valuable insights. However, these tools typically require the payment of fees, whereas the tools listed above are free access.

Importance of a Patentability Search

Conducting a comprehensive search offers several benefits:

  1. Assess Patentability: A patentability search helps determine if an invention is novel and non-obvious, increasing the chances of obtaining a patent.

  2. Informed Decision-Making: A patentability search allows the potential patent applicant to make an informed decision regarding a potential patent filing.

  3. Competitive Intelligence: A thorough search can be provide significant information about the competitive environment and the plans and direction of other businesses in the same technological space, helping businesses evaluate their own direction and development plans.

  4. Cost Savings: Conducting a thorough patentability search before filing a patent application can save significant costs associated with patent prosecution and potential litigation.

  5. Avoid Infringement: The search may identify existing patents that might pose a risk of infringement, allowing businesses to modify their products or processes accordingly.

Challenges in Patent Searching

While patentability searches are essential, they can be challenging due to the following reasons:

  1. Complexity: Patents are often complex and technical, making it challenging and time-consuming to understand and analyze the claims and descriptions.

  2. Volume of Data: The sheer volume of patent documents can be overwhelming, requiring advanced search techniques and tools.

  3. Language Barriers: Patent documents are often published in different languages, posing a challenge for non-native speakers. Multilingual search options and translation tools can help overcome this barrier.

  4. Dynamic Nature: The patent landscape is constantly evolving, with new patents and applications being published regularly. Keeping up with the latest developments requires continuous monitoring and updating of search strategies.


In conclusion, patentability searches are essential for assessing the an application should be filed for a particular invention. By utilizing the right tools, databases, and strategies, inventors and businesses can make informed decisions about pursuing a particular technology or attempting to patent the same.

Patentability and clearance searches are key tools for businesses developing new technologies. A well-executed patentability search is the foundation of a successful patenting strategy and a key element in safeguarding intellectual property rights.

Professional Assistance

Patent searching is complicated and challenging when done correctly. It is recommended that potential patent applicants seek the assistance of an experienced patent attorney. They can provide detailed analysis, patentability search reports, and offer strategic advice based on their findings.

Key Takeaways

  1. Thoroughness is Key: Patentability searches should utilize all relevant databases and a comprehensive keyword strategy to capture related technologies.

  2. Advanced Tools: Leveraging advanced patent searching tools and software can provide a more effective search.

  3. Stay Updated: The patent landscape should be periodically monitored to stay informed about new innovation and emerging trends in your technology area.

  4. Seek Professional Help: Don't hesitate to seek professional services to ensure that you are well and accurately informed about third party patents in your area of technology.

By following these guidelines and utilizing the resources available, you can be well-informed of the patent landscape relevant to your business and technology. Whether you are an individual inventor or a large corporation, a well-conducted patentability study can ensure that your inventions are protected and your intellectual property strategy is robust and effective.



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