How to Do a Patent Search

  • Searchings (still) by Sarah Poynter (Printmaking, 2008)

If you are serious about being an inventor and making money from your designs and inventions, you need to get used to doing patent searches. Nadia Danhash, the Royal College of Art's Head of Intellectual Property and Co-director of InnovationRCA, gives her advice on how to do them.

A patent search will show you whether it is worth you pursuing your invention. If someone else has already done it or done something very similar, you can not.  

Google Patents (www.google.com/patents) is easy to browse and shows you the diagrams right at the start.  

Free Patents Online (www.freepatentsonline.com) has some flexible tools to help you search when you are not exactly sure you are looking for.   

IMPORTANT: Because both above sites do not include patents/patent applications from outside the USA, you cannot rely on these sites alone. You need to also search in espacenet. More about this later!

How to Start a Search

Keyword searching is at the heart of a good patent search. Choosing the best keywords is crucial to getting good search results. You need to think about your keywords carefully.

Always remember: Other inventors may not have used the words that come first to your mind. Think of every possible way to describe the invention. Think of words that any patent on the topic MUST absolutely contain, and then words that the patents PROBABLY contain - but they might not. It is crucial to develop a good list, and then implement the searches with appropriate logic.

For example, if you are searching for an invention related to bicycle tyres. The word ‘bicycle’ is bound to be in any relevant patent. Is the word ‘tyre’ in any relevant patent?  Is the word ‘tyre’ spelt the American way ‘tire’ in any relevant patent?  Maybe the words ‘wheel’ or ‘rim’ should be included?

If the search results in hundreds of patents, then you have to start narrowing down the search, for example, search for ‘bicycle AND tyre’.

Once you have found a few relevant patents, using Google Patent search or Free Patents Online, you can see:

• What other keywords inventors have used (plus you can search again using the inventor’s names)
• Which inventors are active (so you can search again using the inventor’s names)
• Which companies are active  (so you can search again on company names)

How to Complete a Search

http://gb.espacenet.com is the best place to search. Patents and patent applications from the whole world (including USA) are included. Its easy to use ‘Quick Search’ (in the left-hand menu) allows you to search for specific terms in the title or the abstract of patents, or for name of the inventor or organisation which owns the patent. If you get too many results, you can use ‘Advanced Search’ to narrow the search.

Questions

Q. Can I skip the Google and Patents on Line Search?  
A. Yes, of course! You can start straight away with espacenet but remember, if your search result is ‘0 results found in the Worldwide database ‘, then you have not searched properly and you need to try more keywords.

Q. If my search uncovers an old patent (covering an invention like mine) that has expired, can I get a patent for my invention?
A. No. You can only get a patent for a completely new invention.

Q. If my search uncovers a patent application that has been abandoned (covering an invention like mine), can I get a patent for my invention?   
A. No. You can only get a patent for a completely new invention.

Q. If my search uncovers a Japanese patent (covering an invention like mine), can I get a patent for my invention in the UK?   
A. No. Patent Law is international and you can only get a patent for a completely new invention regardless of where you are in the world.

Example: Someone tried to patent an ‘entry system for pets in 1983. The inventor did not do a very thorough search and the examiner pointed out that this had been described in the Beano and so could not be patented. This example illustrates that an invention must be new and novel and not disclosed to be patentable.