If you are going to do your own searching and find relevant patents you are going to need to learn some strategies, and also about the free tools that are available to you. If you are going to do your own preliminary patent searching you will want to take a look at the United States Patent Office patent search page. A lot of information can be found free, and the system is not terribly difficult to use. There is also an excellent Help Section on the Patent Office website to educate inventors on how to use the online search features. There is also another excellent (and free) site that you should use when searching, Free Patents Online.
- Free Patents Online, is also normally much faster than the USPTO site as well. Having said that, I sometimes find the patent search engine of the Patent Office better. Nevertheless, when I use the USPTO patent search engine. I go to Free Patents Online for the PDFs and to access related patents, which is much easier because everything at Free Patents Online is hyperlinked. So once you find a handful of relevant patents definitely go to FPO so you can easily jump back and forth and look at the patents that are cited in each relevant patent you find. In other words, I suggest that you consider using the strengths of both the USPTO and Free Patents Online sites to make you’re searching easier.
- Google also offers Google Patent Search, which is lightning fast (unlike the USPTO online database) even compared with Free Patents Online. The reason I don’t suggest this search tool first is that the Google Patent Search engine has some serious limitations. The number of fields that can be searched pales in comparison to the USPTO or Free Patents Online. Thus, if you are going to use Google Patent Search it is probably best used initially because when you start a search you want to cast a very wide net, so the limitations of the field search are probably not as important initially. As you start to want to search for specific things, perhaps terms within a particular part of a patent or patent application, the Google tool is just not very useful.
- When using the USPTO search features, either at the USPTO website or on Free Patents Online, one trick to improve search quality is to start by using the Advanced Search Page and searching in the specification field. Let’s say, for example, you are looking for patents that relate to insulated containers for carrying beverages. In order to do this, you will first need to pick a term or phrase that might appear within the written description of issued patents.
Following this example, you might try in the search box – SPEC/”insulating beverage container”. When this search was conducted (on June 30, 2015) the results returned a list of 27 patents issued since 1976 that have used that phrase in the specification. This points to the first problem encountered by doing your own patent search online at the USPTO. You can only do full text searching back to 1976. This is probably not too much of a concern for those operating in the high-tech sector, but important to known nonetheless. The fact that you can only search going back to 1976 can be extremely detrimental if you have a mechanical invention or gadget. It is not at all uncommon, in fact it is extremely common for inventors in every generation to seek solutions for the same or similar problems, which leads to the same or similar solutions/inventions.
- For Competent search, you must do more. For example, once you receive manageable results you need to read the patents and see which ones are relevant. Always remember to try various search terms to make sure you are covering all possible descriptions of the invention. Along the way, as you read the patents and identify related ones keep track of the numbers and identify the US classification that relates to the type of invention you are searching. Upon identifying several US classifications that seem to relate to your invention, return to the Advanced Search Page and do a classification search.
For example, again following our example from above, you may notice that classification 206/545 seems relevant to the area of insulated beverage containers. As it turns out, this classification relates to special receptacles or packages with an insulating feature. See US Classes by Number & Title. Therefore, it would seem that patents within this classification are potentially highly relevant. So return to the Advanced Search Page text box and enter “CCL/206/545”. This will search for all the patents classified in 206/545, which as of the time the search was conducted resulted in 156 US patents. You can also add to a classification search to narrow. For example, if you search “CCL/206/545 and SPEC/beverage”, you get down to 55 US patents issued since 1976.
Admittedly, becoming familiar with the intricacies of doing a quality US patent search on your own will take time. Also, when searching using the USPTO system there are a number of fields that are searchable through the Advanced Search Page, which means that there is any number of ways to begin to tackle any search. If you are a serial inventor it is probably worthwhile spending time becoming acquainted with this and other ways to search. Having said this, however, if you are not intimately familiar with both advanced searching techniques and the classification systems, you are almost certainly going to miss what you are looking for in your own search.