Patent Search Online
The Why and The How

Performing a patent search online can have several objectives. We list these objectives below. The best way to learn how to do a patent search is to first read through How to Perform a Patent Search, 2nd section below. Then get started by working through a patent search yourself using an idea you want to develop into a product that you can patent.

Why You Ought To Perform A Patent Search Online

1. You need to know right off the bat whether others have had the same or a similar idea you are considering.  You need to know this now so you can proceed with the development or patenting of your current idea. Or if the same or a similar idea has been patented, you can go on to another idea and not waste time with something already patented. Also, searching interesting patents may help you develop original ideas.

2. A patent search online can be used to determine the classification, the prior art of your concept, and how patent documents describe and illustrate patents similar to your idea. This gives you background for preparing a patent application, especially the patent claims. 

Information on US Patent Classification is found at the PTO classifications website.

Prior art is any knowledge publicly available before the filing date of your earliest patent application. Prior art is found in publications, including patents, product literature and other reference material.

3. Search to learn information about similar patents that may help improve your concept and ultimately your patent.

4. Search to find licensees or purchasers of patents in the field of your concept. You can do this by recording the assignees listed in the patents you are searching. Then you can contact these assignees to discover whether they are interested in buying or licensing patents in your field of interest. You can combine this with a product search online to find out about the commercial success of similar devices.

5. Perform a patent search online to make sure you don’t infringe on other active patents when you write you’re application. 

Your patent application, or even a patent, can’t itself do any infringing. But you can infringe on a patent if you make, use, sell, offer for sale or import a patented invention without permission or license from the patentee.

Infringement happens when an invention is an actual copy of a patented invention or performs the same function as a patented invention.

6. Ultimately a patent search allows you to determine for yourself whether you can likely get a patent for the idea you are considering. This is called a patentability search.

How to Perform a Patent Search Online

The first information to record is the description, keyword list and classification list. Take a notebook or spreadsheet and write down the name and description of the invention or idea you plan to search. Include the date of the search you are performing.

After writing the above description, make a list of all keywords and search terms you can think of that relate to this invention or idea. It probably works best to write this list of keywords in a column to prepare for the next step. Use Google, other search engines, and to help with finding keywords.

Next in your patent search online is establishing the classification(s), or class(es), of your invention or idea. Go to the Index to the US Patent Classification and look up each of your keywords and search terms to get their patent classifications and subclasses. Some keywords may not have equivalent classes. 

You can also use the PTO's Manual of Classification to check the scope or relevance of the classes and subclasses. That way you will see whether you want to use the classes you have found. This manual can also be used directly to find classes for your invention. 

Make a second column next to the keyword column on your notebook page (or spreadsheet) and make a list of these classes and sub-classes as you do each keyword search. Along with the classes write a brief description and any comments about relevance to the idea you are searching.

Search the patents and published applications for each class and subclass in your list of patent classifications. USPTO patents and applications, Google patents and applications. Look through each patent to see how close it comes to your idea. Notice similarities of hardware, steps or purpose. Discard non-related patents.

Next in your patent search online is the listing of relevant patents. Take a second notebook page (or spreadsheet) and make a list of these relevant patents. Include the patent number, inventor name, date issued, class/sub-class, and any comments you have as to relevance. You may find it desirable to add the keywords or other terms to record how you made your search

Save all relevant patents. We recommend saving this information in a computer file instead of printing it.  You will need to be able to access it later for reference.

Look up the References Cited in each relevant patent, and check the Field of Search to find more classes, sub-classes and prior art.


Evaluating Patentability

For a regular utility patent (the most usual type of patent) to be patentable, an invention must fit into a statutory class (a process or method, a machine, an article of manufacture, or a composition). Second the invention has to be useful or have utility. Third, it must have novelty, which means new or different. This means that it is different from any prior art or knowledge publicly available before the date of your invention. And last, it must be non-obvious to someone with ordinary knowledge of the field of the invention. “Non-obvious” means that the invention produces surprising or unexpected results.


Evaluating Commercial Potential

After you have performed a patent search of your invention or idea, you also need to complete an evaluation of commercial potential. You can use our rough and quick method to estimate the commercial potential of your invention.

Consider a product similar to your invention, or the product you hope to be able to displace in commerce. Your product should have advantages over any similar existing products. Find out the number of units sold per year of this existing product, its pricing, and sales. 

Consider that a new product entering the market will take time to reach its potential. Estimate how many units of this new product you can sell and the level of sales in terms of money. Consider that your product may attain some 5-10% of the market the first year, with growth in succeeding years to perhaps 50% of the volume of an existing product. Is the estimated sales figure worthwhile? You will need to be able to make (or buy) a product for ¼ or less of the retail price. Can you make this product at a profit?

For more details on evaluating commercial or sales potential, check business references.


What to Do With Your Completed Patent Search and Evaluations

Your decisions for this invention can be made in the following way:

1.      Does this invention have commercial potential? If NO, then drop this idea. If YES, then continue.

2.      Based on your patent search is this invention patentable? If NO, then consider selling without patenting. If YES, then prepare a patent application either now or after making the next decision.

3.      Do you want to manufacture and distribute this invention yourself? If NO, then consider licensing or selling the patent. If YES, set up to manufacture and distribute the invention.


Go from Patent Search Online (this page) to Patenting An Idea (our main patent page).