How to conduct a patent search

How to conduct a patent search

Patent searches are done for many reasons, but they usually coincide with the development of a product. A patent search may be used to 1) make certain that your product is unique and that it does not replicate patented technologies or identities, 2) check for other features that you can add to your product to make it more competitive in the market, 3) check for different applications for your product, or to 4) find answers to problems in your product’s design.

The depth of the patent search should coincide with the development of your product. When you first come up with the idea it is a good idea to do a quick patent search to check for other similar products, to get more ideas for your product development, and for potential applications and uses for your product. Further along in your product’s development a more in-depth patent search needs to be conducted as this will be the first step towards licensing and protecting your product. The process involved in a patent search is not a one-day event, but a process that will involve research, analysis, and application.

There are three main ways to conduct patent search 1) online databases, 2) CD-ROM databases, and 3) doing a physical search at a Depository Library or at the US Patent Office. Online databases allow convenience and access to more current information than the CD-ROM databases, but they are often down due to the number of people accessing the site. Therefore if you decide to use an online database it is best to search late at night when the traffic is slower. Online databases can either be free or fee-based. The free sites usually only contain patents from the last 20-25 years, so if your product utilizes older technologies than the fee-based site would be more beneficial.


  • The first step is to do a general patent search for companies, products, and inventors who you know are affiliated with your product’s topic area. For example, if you have invented a special type of paper product then you would want to search for companies that you know are in that field like the 3M Corporation. This step is to help generate leads to patents that may compete with your product or give you an insight into its development.
  • Do a keyword search using relevant words to your product. Again using the paper product as an example, you may use keywords like paper, office supplies, wood products, stationery, etc
  • Use the CLASSIFICATION INDEX to find the topic that best describes your product. Your product may fall under more than one class so search carefully and list all that apply.
  • Next, use the MANUAL OF CLASSIFICATION to find the subclasses that further describe your product. List all that apply.
  • Then go to the CLASSIFICATION DEFINITION section to find the definitions of the classes and subclasses that you located for your product in the CLASSIFICATION INDEX and MANUAL OF CLASSIFICATION. These definitions will outline exactly what is covered in the classes and subclasses and help to pinpoint the class and subclass that fits your product.
  • Use the database to locate patents in the classes and subclasses that you’ve identified for your product’s topic.
  • After you have found the patents read through the ABSTRACTS and examine the IMAGES that are provided in the file. Simply skimming the heading is not enough. Really examine the information for relevance, ideas, innovations, and references to other patents or products. This will help generate leads to other patents that will need to be examined.
  • After you have compiled a stack of patents to examine, go through the material, and look for prevalent companies in your topic area and prevalent inventors in your topic area. These can be used for searches for other patents that may be useful in your search.
  • Classify your search words, companies, and inventors under headings and try to come up with other search words that are related to them. Then use these lists to conduct searches for patents.
  • Read through the patents for references to other patents, companies, or inventors and use this information for additional searches.
  • Repeat your searches until you have covered all the patents that are related to your product or its topic area.

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