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  • Kathryn Paisner

How to do a patent search

We at KP2 Research are big fans of DIY. The satisfaction we earn by building exactly what we want is well worth the investment of time and elbow grease.

So, while we're happy to do a patent search for you, we also want to empower you to do this vitally important research on your own.

Maybe you want to check if your competitor is working with a particular type of new material, and don't need a formal report.

Maybe you went with the cut-rate patent search we told you to avoid, didn't like the results, and now don't have budget for a higher-quality one. Hey, it's a sunk cost--but you still need to know what's out there.

Maybe you think we missed something, and want to show us how wrong we are.

Maybe you're a student, or an early-stage startup, and your patent budget is made up entirely of (your) spare time and elbow grease.

Maybe you're just curious to know what we do differently.

Whatever your reasons, we've got your back!


1. Understand the invention

What part of it is new? What part(s) are things that other people have already done? What does it do? Are there any other ways that you could do the same thing? Wikipedia is your friend, here. Unless you are the inventor, expect to spend at least an hour reading technical information.

2. Describe the invention

Remember that a patent is a legal document, as well as a technical one. Many patents are written by lawyers, and their goal is often to meet the requirements for technical disclosure in as obtuse a way as is humanly possible. Two can play at this game. The "two" is you. So think of all of the different ways that a linguistically creative person could describe the invention. Is it a ball? Sure, but could it also be a "spherical implement for personal amusement" or a "sporting orb"? Sadly, yes. It certainly could be.

3. Do a preliminary patent search

Now that you understand the invention, and have given some thought to the various ways that it could be described and/or obfuscated, it's time to craft a search. Each patent database has a different search interface. Pick your poison, and read its user guide. Boolean operators are your friend, because if you just search for "ball," you will get ten thousand results, and that isn't useful. Patent class codes can be useful, as well, but it's important to have at least one search that doesn't use these. Otherwise, you'll probably miss something important.

4. Review the results, and refine your search strategy

The goal with patent search is to get all of the relevant documents, while getting as few irrelevant ones as is possible. This is challenging. At a certain point, you will likely decide that you've figured out how to get all of the relevant ones, and that you'll save time by manually weeding out the irrelevant ones, instead of trying to perfect your search.

5. Start reading

You've been doing the patent search correctly, to this point, if you're thinking, "But I've already done a ton of reading!" Yes, you have. But now it's time to review your final results, to tag patents according to various points of interest, to toss the irrelevant ones, etc. How you perform this step will depend on your overall goal: if you're doing a search for patentability or freedom-to-operate reasons, you'll only care about identifying the patents that are most closely related to your invention. If you're doing competitive intelligence research, you'll want to classify patents according to key points of interest (materials, applications, etc.) This is a data science problem, but if you try to do it automatically, you will likely be unhappy with the results. Robots may be able to beat humans at chess, but it will likely be a very long time before they can beat patent lawyers at linguistic obfuscation. Besides, if you want to put together a large enough data set to train the robot to interpret technical jargon, you're going to have to do a lot of manual review, first. And then you already have the organized data set, so why bother training a robot to interpret it?

6. Have fun!

We once found the Butt Bra patent while researching solar panels. Other world-changing innovation is out there. Go find it!

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