There are a number of professional patent searches available at various price points. No search is ever definitive but, obviously, the more you spend, the better the end results will be. However, an obvious first place to start before spending any money at all, is to use the freely available online patent search tools to conduct your own initial search. This article aims to give first time searchers a brief introductory guide to performing a patent search for their invention or idea, and then goes on to introduce some more advanced tips.
Firstly, why conduct your own patent search at all? Well, that’s a good question. In the UK, the first step of the patenting process following the preparation and filing of your patent application is a worldwide professional search which is conducted by the Patent Examiner at the UK Patent Office. This is a subsidised search using powerful commercial databases. Although it is feasible to defer this searching step for 12 months after filing your patent application, it makes little sense (see my earlier article titled ‘The Dangers of Cheap Patents’).
Therefore, it is usually recommended that a full specification is prepared at the time of submitting the patent application, along with an immediate request for the official worldwide search. The search results will then be returned in around 4 months, leaving you around 8 months to consider the results and obtain further commercial feedback relating to your invention before you have to make the decision as to whether to file counterpart patent applications overseas, such as to protect the US and European markets.
So, if you would be first filing in the UK with the opportunity of the professional search conducted by the UK Patent Office very early on, is it worthwhile undertaking a commercial ‘pre-application’ search prior to your patent filing. If you are an individual inventor who is often short of cash, then arguably not.
However, there is no reason why you should not spend some of your own time using the freely available search tools on the internet, just to try and determine whether your idea can be easily tracked down.
The database that I prefer to use is Espacenet. This is administered by the European Patent Office, and can be found here: www.espacenet.com .
Initially, you are presented with a ‘Smart Search’ field:
However, I personally immediately jump to the ‘Advanced Search’ option on the left menu, which can be found directly at this link: https://worldwide.espacenet.com/advancedSearch?locale=en_EP
Once you’re at this page, I tend to keep the first ‘Collection’ field as ‘Worldwide’ (see the image above), and then use the ‘Title or abstract’ field which is the second empty box down from the top as shown in the above image.
Now, using this ‘Title or abstract’ field, you can insert a reasonably generalised description of your idea. But, you need to really consider the words or phrases that you use. If you are too specific, then many relevant results may be missed. If you are too broad or general, then you will be inundated with results which are not relevant.
So, for example, you may have a new seat for a bicycle which utilises an easy-adjust mechanism. Therefore, your initial search might be: ‘adjustable bike saddle’, ‘bike saddle mechanism’, ‘adjustable bicycle saddle’, and so on. Other terms would also be tried, such as: ‘slidable’, ‘rotatable’, ‘pivotable’, ‘mechanical’, ‘seat’, ‘cycle’ and so on.
If you then try: ‘easily adjustable bicycle seat mechanism’, this may be far too limiting and therefore many relevant results may be missed.
DON’T FORGET, your search is based on the Abstracts of the patent documents in the database. Therefore, you must be using words and phrases which are also used in the patent abstracts. You have to think like the person originally writing the patents! For example, an Abstract can look like this:
If you do not use these words in your search, then you will not find this document. It’s as simple as that.
When you are trying your various search terms, bear in mind that you also need to consider different spellings of the same word, such as ‘colour’ used in the UK and ‘color’ used in the USA. ‘Nappy’ and ‘diaper’ are also notable.
When you click on a result that looks to be of interest, Espacenet first provides the ‘Bibliographic Data’, which includes the Abstract and details of the patent owner:
From here, on the left side menu, you can also look at the ‘Original document’, which will bring up the original patent document as published:
You can then download the whole patent document via the ‘Download’ link on that page, or scroll through the patent publication using the ‘Page’ menu on that screen.
In the second part of this article, we will look at further more advanced options to focus your patent search, along with other freely available patent search tools.
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