How to do a Patent Search | Patent Searching Basics

How to Start a Patent Search | Inputs to an Invention or Patent Search | Where to Start a Patent Search

A Patent Search is researching various data sources to determine if there is prior art that discloses your invention. Prior art is the existing patents, patent applications, and publications around the world that might be similar to your invention or describe your invention.

You will need three things for input into the search engines to do a patent search. You will need the following:

  • Description
  • Keywords
  • Classification

The place to start a patent search is with the description of the invention. A description of the invention that is just a simple sentence or two is the easiest to work with. A concise description is easier to work because what you will need for actual searching in databases is just the right few keywords and the right classification(s) for the invention so that you can locate all the existing products and processes that are the most similar to our invention.

The description is used to develop a good set of keywords to use for searching. The best keywords to use are those terms and phrases about the invention and its field of use that describe it most accurately and completely. A good concise description will be simpler to use. The concise description likely already has many if not all of the keywords that you will need to start a search.

The final piece to the input for a patent search is the classification. The classification system to use is the CPC Scheme (find it on the USPTO website). The CPC is the Cooperative Patent Classification system. Basically the CPC (like all classification systems) categorizes inventions into classes such that all the other inventions that are like your invention will be in the same class(es). Searching by class is essential to a complete patent search.

TIP: If you don’t know or can’t find the class(es) for your invention, one place to start is the class(es) of the patents that you find with keyword searching. Once you find a patent similar to your invention, use that patents classification as a starting point for your invention.

Places to Search | Where to Search | What Data Sources to Search

You should search at least the following data sources. The more places searched the more complete the search. However, this list of sources will give you a good start and quite likely more prior art (existing stuff like yours) than you were expecting.

  • United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) – uspto.gov
  • European Patent Office (EPO) – epo.org
  • World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) – wipo.int
  • Google Patents – patents.google.com

Steps to Patent Searching for Prior Art | Conducting the Patent Database Search for Prior Art

Step 1: Use the keywords to Search the USPTO or Google Patents databases. You are looking for products or processes that are similar to or describe your invention.

Step 2: Review Results – Assess, Evaluate, Refine keywords and classification(s) to narrow the results. You are looking for those products or processes that are the most similar to your invention. The more specific the keywords are the better the results will be.

Step 3: Use refined keywords and classification(s) for Full Search of all data sources to be searched. An exhaustive search would include databases from many countries in many languages all over the planet. At a minimum you should search at least the databases available at the USPTO, the EPO, WIPO, and Google Patents.

What your Searching for | What your Looking for …

There are two things that you are looking for in the information that you discover in the databases.

First, whether the invention is described in the prior art. Is your invention already available, or described in the existing patents, patent applications, and publications (prior art) around the world?

Second, whether the claims of the invention are novel. Is your invention new, or already described in the prior art (the existing patents, patent applications, and publications)?


Get help with your invention. Contact Carson Patents Patent Agent for a quote to help search, file (apply), and represent your invention with the USPTO. Help with filing USPTO Patents and Patent Applications is at carsonpatents.com.

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