Patent Searching Before You Hire a Patent Attorney

25 + Tips focused on Google Patents as the primary search tool so professional patent search experience is not required

1. Google Patents is the easiest search tool, and perhaps the best

If you can do a Google search you can use Google patents. You don’t need to know anything about Boolean searching and you don’t need to know much of anything about patent law. Type in a few key terms and see if your invention is new. Print the document or write down fully identifiable information for the most relevant document your find. (Example: US Pat. No. 1,234,567)

The first step of patent searching:

2. Write out a feature list:

Text searching is the most common form of patent searching. In order to make the most of text searching, you should work from a feature list. Then you can search combinations of features using tools like Google patents. Write down terms and phrases that are important to your invention.

driver's seat, seat warmer, headrest, electric motor, tilting headrest

Zero in on a phrase using quotes like below, but be careful. Using quotes removes all documents without the exact quote.

driver's seat, seat warmer, headrest, "electric motor" tilting headrest

3. Use synonyms:

Use synonyms to broaden the scope of your patent search. The google patents advanced search features can allow you to use the synonyms in a single search.

In a simple Google Patents search:

car motor
automobile engine

After clicking advanced search at the bottom of the google patents search page …

… you can search like this:

Google Patent Synonym Searching

4. Patent searching isn’t just about patents:

In a patent application, an examiner can use books, articles, websites and just about anything else that is available to the public to reject a patent application. When you look to see if your invention is new, think broadly about where someone else might have disclosed your invention. Make notes of the most relevant things you find whether they are patents or not. NOTE OF CAUTION: Your own disclosures of your invention can be used against your in the US and abroad when applying for a patent. A Baton Rouge patent attorney can help you understand how to best protect against your own disclosures.

Getting Deeper into Patent Searching

5. Broaden your search terms and narrow your search terms:

If your invention uses a screw, think broadly and think narrowly to find new related search terms. You should probably search for fasteners generally and for the particular type of screw that you need.

screw, fastener, Philips screw

6. Search for substitutes:

If you are searching for a screw as an invention feature, ask yourself “could a nail work?” If the answer is yes, search for a nail.

screw, nail

7. Critical Features

If omitting a part or feature would cause your invention not to work, then that feature might be a critical feature. Brainstorm every feature that meets these criteria and put them on the feature list. Identifying critical features often gets to the heart of what an really invention is. If you hire a Louisiana patent attorney this concept may be explored with some considerable additional depth.

When You Find a Document that is Really Close to Your Invention:

8. Tell Google to “Find Prior Art”

When you find an old patent or other document that is particularly relevant, it makes sense to find out if there are other similar documents that may be even more relevant. WARNING: This is a date sensitive search that looks for similar patent and relevant references that are older than the reference you are searching from. Just click the “Find Prior Art” button to see a new list of similar documents. A Baton Rouge patent attorney can help you determine what references may be prior art to your invention. (Something that is more relevant after you have a patent application filing date) It is important to understand that this search feature is generally not keyed to the relevant date for your invention unless you manually set the relevant date.

9. Tell Google to Look for “Similar” applications.

Again, if you have found a good relevant document, use that document to find more documents. Click “Similar” and you will find many similar patents and applications. This is different than “Find Prior Art” because it is not date sensitive.

10. Backward search the most relevant reference:

Backward searching is checking the references that were cited in the application. If a patent examiner thought something was relevant, you might want to look into it also. In Google patents you can click on the “Patent citations” for patent documents and the “Non-Patent citations” link for non-patent literature.

11. Forward search the most relevant reference:

A patent examiner working on a later patent application may cite an earlier patent application. Find the earlier applications by clicking “cited by” in Google Patents.

12. Use patent classifications to your advantage

The Patent Office keeps really similar documents in groups called classifications. Use this to your advantage when you find something really close to what you are looking for. In Google Patents you might see a box like the following:

Without knowing anything about patent classification, you can narrow your search a little, a lot, or a whole lot. Google is offering to let you narrow by a whole lot by clicking the “B60R21/207” link in blue. (see image above) The text after the link is a description of what type of narrowing you will get by clicking the link. But you two more options for narrowing your search. One is obvious: Click “View 12 more classifications” and you will get other options for similar very narrow searches. However, If you click on the descriptive text, i.e. “Arrangements for storing…” you will get broad and narrow classification options.

You may want to choose something from that list which starts with a very broad classification group and descends to a very narrow list. No matter what you select you will be narrowing your results. The question is how much.

If you find a useful classification you can use it in your searches by typing in “CPC:” then the classification.

backrest CPC:B60R
backrest CPC:B60R21
backrest CPC:B60R21/207

Don’t get stuck in the weeds! Classification searches can be helpful, but they should only be a small part of your total searching.

More Advanced Patent Search Techniques

13. Search your competitors

assignee:"Haliburton"

14. Patents can have families, look for them

Technologies evolve and so do inventions. Inventors sometimes add new features and related applications. You can quickly find the related applications by clicking on the “Global Dossier” link.

That link will take you to the USPTO Global Dossier page which displays the family of patent applications. If you then click on “App. Date” you can sort the applications by filing date. That allows you to quickly see where the patent application family originated and the countries where applications were filed. Note: this is likely not a complete data set, but it is very comprehensive for the price of free.

15. Focus on the differences

If the closest reference you have found is missing a few features, try searching for different combinations of the missing features. You may find a reference that is closer than what you thought was best.

Other Patent Search Techniques that Add Value to Your Search

16. Assignment searches tell you about the owner’s activities.

Patent owners commonly do a great deal of work in the same area. Find out who the patent owner is by clicking “USPTO Assignment.”

When the link takes you to the USPTO patent assignment page, you will already be at the relevant assignment. However, you probably want to know what the assignee has been up to. To get that information, just click on the name of the patent assignee.

That will get you to a list of all of the US patent assignments for that assignee. This is significant because you can then link to each of their patents by clicking on the patent numbers.

17. Web and product searches:

Simple searches you do for everyday products may be appropriate. Sometimes the most relevant products appear on Amazon, Google and shopping websites.

18. Use Google scholar:

Depending on the nature of the invention, academic research and papers may have the most relevant information about whether an invention is new. Searching Google scholar can find information from the academic world.

How Do You Know When You are Done Patent Searching?

19. You might be done patent searching when references show up again in special circumstances.

Possibly the best patent search advice I
got when I was a patent examiner was this:

You might be done searching when completely independent
search methods arrive at the same reference.

In other words, if you search using three terms and find a relevant document then you search three completely different terms and find the same relevant document, you might have searched enough.

More Patent Search Tips

20. Look for state-of-the-art features.

Just because you are patent searching does not mean you are done inventing. If you find a feature that makes your invention better, write it down. The best version of your invention doesn’t have to be the one you started searching.

21. Keep an eye out for patents you might be infringing:

If you see a patent that you think your invention might infringe, don’t panic. Write down the relevant patent number and speak to a patent attorney. Although infringement determinations can be complicated, very often they are straightforward and do not require a great deal of attorney time.

22. Search patent abstracts

Abstracts tend to be brief and incomplete. Use that to your advantage. An abstract search can quickly cull millions of irrelevant documents. For example if you want to search for hidden seat belts the following search might get you a better result set:

hidden ab="seat belt"

23. Search Boolean combinations

(This can only be done on the Advanced Search Page of Google Patents)

If searching with text strings in google patents is a shotgun approach to patent text searching, Boolean searching is the scalpel approach. Because different techniques give different results you may find the reference google would not give you. Try some interesting combinations that are not part of the google patents repertoire. (classification + keyword)(abstract + keyword)

Search Boosting Combinations (NEAR, WITH, SAME)

(Technically these are not Boolean searches, but they may be even better)

When you use the Google Patents Advanced Search Page and combine two terms with “NEAR”, documents with the connected terms that are within 5 words of each other (?Google does not say the number?) get a search rank boost. “WITH” gives a search rank boost when the terms are within 20 words of each other and “SAME” gives a search rank boost when the terms are within 200 words of each other.

(throttle NEAR pedal) AND brake
(throttle NEAR pedal) WITH brake

24. Use machine translations if necessary.

If your reference is in Japanese or German and you don’t speak the language, you are not out of luck. Try a machine translation. Sometimes a bad free translation will tell you what you need to know.

25. Don’t live in fear

Knowing Google and the USPTO have some of your search strings is a small price to pay compared to the price of seeking patent protection for an unpatentable invention. If you do seek patent protection, your ability to prepare a better application should more than make up for the risk associated with a patent search.