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Understanding Patent Keyword Searching

lawtrades patent search

Patent keyword search is the most common and effective method of searching for existing patents or prior patent applications. It helps the searcher to locate similar patents, determine the state of technology in the field, and understand whether your invention is capable of patent. As the most popular and effective method, it is still necessary to make yourself aware of the various techniques for effectively carrying out a patent keyword search.

In this article, we explain the process for conducting a patent keyword search. We also provide you with various types of success in the process.


Objectives of Patent Keyword Searching

There are numerous methods for conducting a patent search. The most common is to employ keywords that describe or relate to your invention. You plug these words into the search engine available in free or paid online databases to view a listing of related patents. Most of us are familiar with conducting an Internet search through Google or Bing. A patent keyword search is very similar, except it requires greater technique to return positive results.

By positive, I mean that you want to make certain that your results are targeted for your purpose. There are several reasons for conducting a patent search, including:

  • Existing Patents – You will need to identify existing patents that relate to your inventions. Of course, if the exact or very similar claimed elements of your invention are subject to patent protection, then you run the risk of infringing upon the rights of the existing patent holder.
  • Determining Ownership – If you identify patents that are relevant to your invention, it may help you to know who is the patent holder. This can be helpful if you are assessing the competition in the field or simply making a determining of who you would need to contact if you desire to license the patent holder’s rights to produce or manufacture an invention that incorporates those patented rights.
  • Viability Determination – You may still be on the fence as to whether your invention is capable of patent or worth patenting. By doing a patent search, you can see what already exists in the field. It will help you understand what is required to secure a patent. Also, it will give you an idea of whether your invention is sufficient distinct from existing patents. Remember, your invention must be novel to qualify for patent protection.
  • Related Technology – If your invention relies upon existing technology, you will need to determine whether this technology is subject to patent protection. If so, you will need to take steps (such as licensing rights to use it) if you want to either integrate that technology into your invention or sell your invention as a part or component with the existing invention.
  • Ideation for Future Inventions – You may use a patent search as inspiration to determine what you could invent in the future. This is particularly helpful for companies that produce lines of various products in a specific field. If you want to continue to develop products in that particular field, you can use patent searching as a method of determining what exists or what is about to come to market. For this purpose, it is very valuable to search patent applications as well as existing patents.
  • Identifying Competitors – If you plan to compete in an already competitive market, you will need to identify your competitors and the strong of their position. One of these determinations will involve identifying the competitor’s intellectual property. This will be important when planning operations or when identifying a valid competitive advantage. If you have potential inventors in your invention, they will want to see that you have researched the existing competitors and have a plan for outperforming them in the market.


Getting Started with a Patent Keyword Search

Before jumping into instructions on how to carry out a patent keyword search, let’s look at the information present in a patent application or granted patent.

The first informal from the patent application is the “General Information”. This includes:

  • Title of the Invention (which can be very helpful for developing keywords to search).
  • Summary of the Invention (This explains what the invention does and a basic description of how it works. Again, this can be a very useful source of keywords.
  • Name of All Inventors – If you know an inventor and wish to determine what other projects that individuals has worked on as inventor, you can do a keywords search for that individual’s name.
  • Name of the patent owner – If you know a patent holder and wish to determine what other patents that individual/company holds, you can do a keywords search for that individual’s name.
  • Filing Number and Date – This can be useful when you have specific information about a patent that you want to identify. If you know that a particular patent was filed within a specific time period, you can greatly narrow your search results.
  • Status of Patent – There are unique considerations for how to proceed regarding a granted patent versus a patent application. As such, knowing whether a patent has been granted, rejected, or is still in the prosecution phase can be very useful in the search process.

After the general information, the patent will contain a wealth of “technical information”. This information explains how the invention is made, how it works, and what are the claimed elements of the invention. Technical information includes:

  • Description – This section will explain the utility or usefulness of the patent. It will also explain why the invention is novel compared to existing inventions.
  • Drawings – All utility patents will included detailed drawings. These drawings are used to illustrate the various components of the invention. These drawings are used as reference in the claims stated within the patent.


Types of Keyword Search

While all keyword searches depend upon searching specific keywords, these searches vary based upon what is searched for the applicable keyword. This will depend upon the database or functions you employ within a database.

  • Full-Text vs Summary Searches – Some databases allow for keyword search of the full text of a patent application or granted patent. These are very comprehensive databases. Sometimes, however, this can be information overload. The search results will return thousands of patents, many of which are irrelevant to your search. They only appeared in the search because the key words were used at some point in the patent application. As previously stated, the patent application has a description. Generally, this description is employed by many search databases to create a summary of the content of the patent application. As such, many databases offer searches of patent summary (either exclusively as an option to full-text searches). These searches tend to be more targeted and can return more specific results. The only fear is that the search terms are not sufficiently tailored to bring back all applicable searches.
  • Bibliographic Keyword Searches – Bibliographical information about a patent application includes an abstract (short description), Classification Codes, Patent Numbers and dates, and Keywords. As you can see, much of this is the general information in a patent application. Many databases allow you to search specifically in bibliographic categories. This allows for fare more targeted searches and results. Perhaps the most widely used is the Classification search. This allows for the search of all patents within a specific industry or function.


Keyword Searching

The search process begins by identifying the type of keyword search you want to do and in what category. Then you will employ the keywords you identified about your inventions. Identifying keywords is a brainstorming exercise. Ask yourself questions about your invention and try to identify the words that come to mind. For example,

  • What does my invention do?
  • Why is it useful?
  • How does it function?
  • What is it made of?
  • What is the industry or market?

As you begin to search, you should begin to identify additional keywords on similar or related patents that can be useful for your search.

The best way to identify patent keywords is to read patents. When you identify a similar or relevant patent, identify the primary keywords. Then, conduct a search on those keywords. It should reveal similar relevant patents.

Once you find a relevant patent, you will want to search for any “prior art”. Prior art simply means the existing technology or inventions in the field. Each example of prior art will lead you to prior inventions by references. While you may or may not find prior art that meets your purpose, this type of search will provide you with additional keywords for searching.

Once you have identified your relevant categories and keywords for searching, you can then begin to use limitations on your keyword searches to better target your search. Some of the limiting functions include: Boolean Operators, Proximity Operators, and Search Codes (Classification Codes). Some common types of operators include:

  • “And”: Used to search for two words at the same time
  • “Or”: Used to search for one keyword or another
  • “NOT”: Used to exclude some results
  • “NEAR/#”: Used to cite the number of words between two keyword
  • “ABST”: Used to search abstracts
  • “SPEC”: Used to search specifications or descriptions
  • “CCL”: Used to search current classifications
  • “AN”: User to search owner or assignee names
  • “IN”: Used to search inventors names

The database that you employ may offer a range of operators that can be useful in targeting your keyword search.

When searching, try to pair down your searches to one class of invention. Do not employ Boolean searches until you have a specific class in which to search.

Identify synonyms for your key search terms in that classification. You will eliminate these synonyms from your search criteria up front. This will allow you to focus on the original key words you have identified.

Search until you have identified all patents within that specific class that register for any of your original keywords.

Then, add back the eliminated words (one by one). This will allow you to identify the various applications or granted patents that fall outside of your original keyword description. You can sometimes class these separately based upon the key words.


Things to Avoid When Keyword Searching

Here is a list of things that can do more harm than good in your keyword searches:

  • Always go from “specific” to “general” when doing keyword searches. This means that you should start with narrow search terms and then expand to broader terms from there.
  • Beware of false positives or false negatives. False positives are when you get lots of results for what you expect but nothing otherwise. A false negative is when your search doesn’t find things it should find. Both of these can lead to an incorrect impression as to the state of the art.
  • There are several classification systems used throughout the world. You will need to learn these for international search as well. Also, don’t rely solely on classification codes. Very similar inventions can be in multiple classification codes, as each patent examiner may classify an invention slightly differently.
  • Use summary text searches and full-text searches. Just doing summary text searches may fail to produce relevant patent information.
  • Make certain you search back far enough. Just because you believe your search only concerns inventions from a particular time period, make certain to keep your time horizons broad.
  • A patent search is only one aspect of determining patentability. There may be public disclosures through means other than a patent filing.


LawTrades Knows Keyword Searching

Patent searching is a difficult process. You should consider working with a competent legal professional when navigating the patent law system. The legal professionals at LawTrades are available to help you with every stage of the patent search and filing process.