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Guide to Patent Searching


Patent Tutorials: Which one is right for you?

Patent Searching on the Internet - For inventors, researchers, students and enthusiasts.

Learn how to search patents and perform a preliminary patentability search using tools available through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website.

Patent Application Searching - For inventors and innovators.

Learn about using the USPTO’s AppFT product for searching patent applications.

Patent Statistics -Learn how to find patenting activity to assist in evaluating industries, companies, and areas of technology.


Background Information:

 


Why Perform a Patent Search?

The classic reason to perform a patent search is to assure an inventor that no previous patent interferes with the inventor’s plan to file a patent application.

Other reasons include:

  • learning more about a new field of technology.
     
  • For market information.
     
  • In order to track the intellectual property of competitors.

Definitions and Types of Patents

Invention: Any art or process (way of doing or making things), machine, manufacture, design, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, or any variety of plant, which is or may be patentable under the patent laws of the United States.

Prior Art: The existing or publicly available knowledge available before the date of an invention or more than one year prior to the first patent application date.

Patent: A property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.

There are three different types of patents:


Utility: This is the most common type of patent. It may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new, useful, and non obvious process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.

Design: A design patent may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.

Plant: A plant patent may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.

There are two types of utility patent applications, provisional and non-provisional. A non provisional, or regular, application is the more common of the two. However, since 1995 inventors have had the option of filing a provisional patent application. The provisional application was created in order to give U.S. applicants parity with foreign applicants. Previously, foreigners had an advantage when it came to filing patent applications. They could add a year to the standard twenty year life of a patent by filing an application in their home country and subsequently filing an application in the U.S. They would then claim priority to their home country, which would effectively add a year to the life of the patent. Provisional applications give U.S. applicants this same advantage. Another advantage of provisional applications is that they are less expensive than their regular counterparts. However, there are some important things to consider when filing a provisional application. Provisional applications are good only for 12 months. This means that you must file a corresponding non-provisional application during this time period to take full advantage of the extended 12 month time period or face the expiration of your provisional application.


What is Patentable?

Utility patents are provided for a new, non obvious and useful:

  • Process
  • Machine
  • Article of manufacture
  • Composition of matter
  • Improvement of any of the above

    Note: In addition to utility patents, encompassing one of the categories above, patent protection is available for (1) ornamental design of an article of manufacture or (2) asexually reproduced plant varieties by design and plant patents.

What cannot be patented:

  • Laws of nature
  • Physical phenomena
  • Abstract ideas
  • Literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works (these can be Copyright protected).
  • Inventions which are:
    • Not useful (such as perpetual motion machines); or
    • Offensive to public morality

Invention must also be:

  • Novel
  • Non obvious
  • Adequately described or enabled (for one of ordinary skill in the art to make and use the invention)
  • Claimed by the inventor in clear and definite terms

 


Patent Myths

Patents are valuable - Patents may have commercial value but that usually depends upon how it has been used.

A patent means the invention works as verified by the government - The U.S. government does not test inventions to see if they work.

A patent gives the owner the exclusive right to make, use, and sell the invention - A patent gives its owner the right to EXCLUDE others from making, using, and selling exactly what is covered by their patent claims. A holder of a prior patent with broader claims may prevent the inventor whose patent has narrower claims from using the inventor's own patent. A patent right is exclusory only.


Why is classification so important?


While it is possible to search patents using keywords, the best way to conduct a comprehensive patent search is by classification.  Classification helps bring together similar devices and concepts, even when different terms have been used to describe them.

For more information please read the USPTO websites Patent Classification Help page.