Doing a patent search is an important initial step before applying for a patent. It allows you to see what inventions like yours already exist before you spend time and money applying for a patent. This gives you an idea of how likely it is for you to get a patent and what you may be able to do to increase your chances of obtaining a patent. Here are the steps to do a patent search.
Identify Your Invention’s Novelty
First, determine what you think makes your invention different from existing inventions. When the US Patent Office looks at your invention to determine if you deserve a patent, they are deciding whether your invention is different enough from existing inventions. Specifically, the US Patent Office must decide whether your invention is novel, nonobvious, and useful. What this means is, they are looking at what makes your invention different from existing inventions and deciding whether those differences are different enough. So, to do a proper patent search, you need to think like the Patent Office and look at what sets your invention apart from other inventions. Ask yourself, “what makes my invention different?” and write down a list. This is the novelty of your invention which you will be trying to look for in existing inventions during your patent search.
Determine Your Patent Search Tool
There are several patent search databases that are available on the internet. For example, the US Patent & Trademark Office has a patent search tool called Patent Public Search, the European Patent Office has one called Espacenet, and Google has one called Google Patents. Each one has a different interface and which one you feel is easier to use is a personal preference. However, it is important to note that each patent search tool has a somewhat different scope of search meaning they may find different patents. The US Patent & Trademark Office search only searches for US patents whereas Google Patents and the European Patent Office can find some foreign patents. Patent attorneys and agents will often search multiple databases to perform a comprehensive search. Remember that an existing invention from anywhere in the world can be used by the US Patent Office to reject your US patent application. For example, if the US Patent Office finds a similar invention in Canada, that can be used to reject your US patent application. So, it is important when doing a patent search to also search for inventions in countries outside of the US.
Conduct a Keyword Search
The simplest way to start a patent search is through a keyword search, which means entering keywords into the patent search tool. Type in keywords into the patent search tool to look for inventions that are like your invention. Your objective is to try and find inventions as close as possible to your invention. This way you know what existing inventions may be potential roadblocks to you getting a patent. Use that list you made earlier which has the novelty of your invention. You aren’t just looking for inventions that generally do what your invention does. You want to look for an invention that has the exact novel features your invention has. This way you can determine whether those unique features you have are truly unique. For example, let’s say you invent a toaster which toasts bread, and it has a visual sensor to detect how brown in color the bread is. When the toaster’s visual sensor sees that the bread is at a set shade of brown color, the toaster will stop. Now, you can’t just look for all toasters, that’s not specific enough. You also don’t need to know about toasters with automatic stop timers, that’s not similar enough. What you are looking for is whether someone has already made specifically a toaster that has a visual sensor which can detect a specific shade of brown on the bread and then automatically stop the toaster. You need to know whether someone has already done this before. Focus on the novelty of your invention.
Conduct a Class Search
An additional method of conducting a patent search is by searching through classes and subclasses. Classes are categories and all patents are put in one of these categories called classes. There are major classes, then subclasses within the major classes, then subclasses within the subclasses. This allows patents to be organized based on the type of invention it is so patent searchers can more easily find what they are looking for. There are different classification systems that are used by different patent offices but the most common one is known as the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) which the US Patent Office also uses. Search through the classification system to find the subclasses which your invention falls under. You can now use your patent search tool of choice to look for patents inside that subclass to see if someone has already invented something similar. Remember, even expired patents can be used by the US Patent Office to reject your invention. For example, if you find a similar existing patent in your search and it was granted 30 years ago and has since expired, the Patent Office can still use that expired patent to say it is too similar to the invention you are trying to apply for a patent today. Make sure you are looking at all patents when doing a search, regardless of how old it is. Also, patent applications that were never approved can also be used by the Patent Office to say no. So, make sure to also look for patent applications that never became a patent but is similar to your invention.
Search for Inventions That are Not Patents
The Patent Office can reject your patent application if it finds a similar existing invention even if that invention is not patented. That means you also need to look for similar inventions outside of the patent databases. Search the internet such as through Google, Amazon, or YouTube. Any evidence of a similar invention anywhere can be used as an argument by the Patent Office to say no to your patent application.
Improve Your Invention Over Existing Inventions
Once you have a list of similar inventions that already exist, determine if you can now improve your invention around those existing inventions. For the Patent Office to grant you a patent, they must determine that your invention is different enough from existing inventions. The more differences you have from existing inventions, the higher the chances of you convincing the Patent Office that you are different enough. Look at the existing inventions you found and add features to your inventions to further set your invention apart from those existing inventions. This will increase your chances of patent approval.
Determine Your Chances of Patentability
Once you have found similar inventions and improved your invention, if possible, evaluate how similar your invention is to the existing inventions and how likely it is for a patent application to be approved. It is recommended to get a professional opinion of patentability from a patent attorney or agent. Patent attorneys and agents see patent rejections frequently and they know how the Patent Office thinks. Just because you have not found an existing invention that is identical to yours does not mean your invention can obtain a patent. The Patent Office will grant you a patent if your invention is “nonobvious” when compared to existing inventions. In other words, your invention must be different enough from existing inventions. How different is different enough? A patent attorney or agent can give you a better idea of whether it is worthwhile to apply for a patent based on his experience in seeing countless patent rejections. It is also recommended to have a patent attorney or agent conduct a patent search even if you have already done one. Patent attorneys and agents do patent searches on a day-to-day basis and may find existing inventions that you may have missed. Before you invest time and money to pursue a patent application, you will want to have a solid understanding of your chances of obtaining a patent and how you may be able to increase your chances of obtaining.