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Patent Search by Number 101: A Simple Guide

lawtrades patent searching

If you have created a new product, process or product design, you likely have numerous questions about how to best protect your intellectual property. In general, it is a good idea to consult with an intellectual property attorney as soon as you have created something novel, so that you can receive guidance and support specific to your unique needs. Attorneys experienced in intellectual property matters are well placed to advise individual innovators and innovative businesses in regards to legal protections for novel, creative work.

When preparing to meet with an intellectual property attorney to discuss your new product, process or design, it may significantly benefit you to familiarize yourself with the progression involved in applying for a patent. If you understand the basics of the patent application process, you will be able to ask informed questions and compile necessary documentation that will be helpful to your attorney when he or she drafts your application. When you are informed, the process will likely be smoother, more accessible and generally more efficient than it would be otherwise.

During the course of preparing to meet with an attorney, you may benefit from taking several specific steps. These steps include: general familiarization with the patent application process, compiling notes, research and drawings, writing down any questions you may have and conducting a “first look” patent search. Each of these steps will help you be as prepared as you can be for an efficient, effective patent application process.


Patent Searches: In General and by Number

One of the most critical steps in the patent application process is a thorough, complete and final patent search. This process is notoriously complex and time-intensive but an experienced attorney will be able to complete it as efficiently and effectively as possible. Before this final search is completed however, it may benefit you significantly to initiate a “first look” search. This process will enable you to discover whether there are any pieces of prior art that have both already received legal protection and mirror your work in fundamental ways. If such pieces exist, you will be able to alter your product, process or design before your attorney conducts your final patent search. This intensive search is designed to ensure that your creative work is eligible for protection and confirm that your application is likely to be approved. If such pieces do not exist, you can move forward with your patent application more confidently.

Unlike the final patent search your attorney will conduct, a first look search simply requires you to look up the most obvious keywords, concepts and fundamental design elements associated with your work. You should be able to determine whether there is any strikingly similar prior art in existence after searching these obvious terms and ideas. Your attorney will handle more nuanced and less obvious terms during his or her final patent search.

Both the United States Patent and Trademark Office and Google host free databases containing information on the vast majority of existing domestic patents. The Google interface is more user-friendly and intuitive, so many inventors prefer to use this database. It is worth noting that in addition to the USPTO and Google databases, your attorney will likely use a subscription database for his or her search that is too expensive for individuals and businesses to use on a one-time or periodic basis. Subscription services do an excellent job of tracking and helping to analyze results. The free databases do not perform these functions to any great extent, so it will be important for you to take notes as you go along.

In addition to using the simple search function (much as you would search generally on Google) you can opt to search by inventor or patent number. These search modes are a little more advanced, as you will need to know what patent you are searching for specifically. Most of the time, these advanced searches are performed when you read about a specific patent within your general research and would like to learn more. Alternatively, you may be able to refer to a current product’s patent located somewhere on its packaging. This may be a relevant process for you if you are concerned that your product is too fundamentally similar to a product already on the market.

When trying to locate a patent number, please note that utility patent numbers tend to be seven letters long, whereas design patents tend to start with the letter “D” followed by six numbers. If you want to search for a patent application number (as opposed to an approved patent number) you will search by publication number. Please note that the USPTO only publishes the information associated with patent applications filed more than 18 months before the date of your search. The first four digits of a publication number represent the year during which the application was published by the USPTO.


Intellectual Property Assistance Is Available

You have worked hard to create something new. Obtain the necessary protections to safeguard the investment it takes in order to invent something that is truly novel in nature. Our intellectual property attorneys have extensive experience filing successful patent applications and are well-placed to advise you in regards to your process.