Researching your field of technology before preparing to file a patent application is a wise move. Something many inventors and potential applicants don’t know is that a number of patent databases are publicly available. Wondering where to start? Read on…
This free online database is the patent search service of the European Patent Office. However, it contains patent documents from over 100 patent offices and therefore includes documents from countries other than the members of the European Patent Organisation. Non-European countries’ documents that may be found in this database include those of Australia, the US, China and Russia. If your search result does happen to be a European patent or application, the Espacenet record includes a helpful link to the EP Register in which you can view the details of the patent, including case documents such as examination communications and responses.
The number of countries covered by the Espacenet database makes it a very useful search tool, and often the first resource to check when researching patent documents. On the other hand, the number of documents that result from a search of Espacenet can make analysis of the results time consuming.
The Patent Full-Text Databases, or PatFT, are provided by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). PatFT includes limited details of US patents from 1790 and the full text of patents from 1976. This database therefore contains a wealth of knowledge since the USPTO is easily the biggest English-language Patent Office in the world, in terms of applications filed.
Unfortunately, PatFT is less user-friendly than many of the other available search services. The ‘quick search’ option is easier to use than ‘advanced search’, but only two search term fields can be populated. The advanced search allows for the population of numerous fields, but requires a familiarity with how to construct your search statement for a valid search and to generate the results you seek. Also, pending applications and granted patents are located on separate databases, which often means a search must be duplicated.
This is the patent database of the Australian Patent Office. AusPat contains Australian patent records dating back to 1904, including full specifications that are text-searchable. The AusPat database is quite user-friendly meaning that comprehensive searches of all local specifications can be fairly quick and simple. In addition, the eDossier included in AusPat provides access to case documents for patent applications from about the last decade. These documents include examination reports issued by IP Australia and amendments made to applications.
AusPat feels intuitive making it simpler to use than other search services, yet it obviously only covers patent documents from Australia. Therefore, it’s great for getting an overview of local patents and applications but cannot be relied upon for a comprehensive search.
One of the many free services offered by Google, its patent search facility makes available the full text of granted patents and published applications from a number of countries. Documents from the patent offices of Japan, Canada, the US, Europe and more are included in Google Patents. Both the search and results pages will look familiar, making this service feel comfortable and non-intimidating. There is also an option to include non-patent literature (from Google Scholar) in your search so an even broader view of the technology landscape can become apparent.
The familiarity and ease of use of Google Patents is welcome to many lay-users. However, the lack of sophistication of this service as a patent search tool results in very broad capture of a large number of results that can be difficult to navigate. Its best use may be merely as a tool to quickly view details of single patent documents or a single applicant’s portfolio, for example.
A word of caution
Employing Boolean search terms and techniques (such as using operators AND, OR and NOT) is incredibly useful in many electronic searches, including a patent search. It is a good idea to become familiar with these terms and techniques before beginning a search. The best and most accurate search results are achieved using sophisticated Boolean algorithms. Less frequent searchers may find that their efforts in the absence of heavy duty skills in Boolean searching will not always generate sensible, understandable results that are easy to analyse.
Espacenet, PatFT, AusPat and Google Patents are just a few of the many free and public patent search tools available. They all have their pros and cons and, depending on the limitations of each, may or may not be useful and suitable for prior art searching. You should be encouraged to do some of your own research and investigations. Based on your level of knowledge to sift through what you find using names, dates, keywords and classification codes, with Boolean operators to search, can result in good preliminary outcomes.
It is critical to note that relying solely on your own search results is unwise as it may leave you with a false sense of security: finding nothing of relevance does not mean that nothing relevant exists. Searching is a daunting task for the uninitiated. When this becomes apparent, get in touch with your Patent Attorney and their professional searching team to do the heavy lifting for you.