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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:

  • Identifying applications and issued patents for inventions in the area of interest to assist with understanding conventions for patent vocabulary and patent structure.
  • For learning more about a new field of technology.
  • For market information.
  • In order to track the intellectual property of competitors.
  • technology tracking


Definitions and Types of Patents

Definitions (thanks to
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.

Patent Application: An application for patent filed under 35 U.S.C. 111(a) that includes all types of patent applications (i.e., utility, design, plant, and reissue) except provisional applications. The nonprovisional application establishes the filing date and initiates the examination process. A nonprovisional utility patent application must include a specification, including a claim or claims; drawings, when necessary; an oath or declaration; and the prescribed filing fee.

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.

Reduction to Practice: An in depth description of how the invention works, described in concrete terms.  That is, the theoretical is built and tested.

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.
Types of Patents
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 nonobvious 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.


What is Patentable?

I. Inventions of Utility

A. First the invention must fall into one of five statutory classes if applying for a utility patent. The five statutory classes are:

  1. Process (method)
  2. Machine
  3. Article of manufacture
  4. Compositions
  5. New Uses for Any of the Above

B. The invention must be useful.

C. The invention must also satisfy the novelty requirement. In other words, the invention must be original and not known from previous inventions.

D. Finally, the invention must meet the unobviousness requirement, meaning it would have been unobvious to the people skilled in the area of the invention.

II. Inventions of Design

III. Asexually Reproducible Plants

What is Not Generally Patentable?

  • Laws of nature
  • Physical phenomena
  • Abstract ideas
  • Literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works (these should be copyright protected)
  • Inventions which are against the laws of nature (ex. perpetual motion machines)
  • Inventions whose only use is for illegal purposes (ex. torture devices)

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.

What is Patent Classification?

A patent classification system uses numbers and letter (or just letters) to categorize an invention.  The U.S. Patent Office has long used its own system, the USPC, and is transitioning to a new international system, the CPC.
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.


Patent Application Searching