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Patents and Trademarks

A guide to getting started with patent searching and trademark searching.

A patent is a legal right to exclude others from the commercial exploitation of a novel, useful, and non-obvious invention.

Patents are granted by a government agency (in the United States, the US Patent and Trademark Office) for a limited term, in exchange for the public disclosure of the invention and its workings.

Patent databases

Most patent information is openly available online. Patent databases and search engines vary by breadth of contents, national or international coverage, basic interfaces and advanced search tools.

Google Patents or USPTO?

Google Patents and the USPTO's Public Patent Search have different advantages. Use both to ensure a comprehensive search strategy.

Google Patents USPTO
All patent documents, except recent months All patent documents, updated weekly
USPTO and 100+ other jurisdictions USPTO patents only

Also contains non-patent literature (technical documents and books indexed in Google Scholar and Google Books)

Only patents

Simple interface designed for quick review of matches Complex interface designed for precise searching
Searches full documents 1790-present Searches full documents 1970-present; searches patent numbers, dates, and classifications 1790-present; searches inventor names 1920-present

Searches images with Optical Character Recognition

Searches text 1970-present (more reliable); searches with OCR 1790-1970

Default order of results is relevancy

Default order of results is reverse-chronological

Supports citation analysis across worldwide patents and other prior art

Supports citation analysis across US patents

IMPORTANT!: How to search

1. Search by classification.
The most effective way to search for patents for a specific area of technology is to identify the most relevant classes and subclasses in the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) scheme.

Recommended: search by keyword in a patents database, find a relevant patent, then review its CPC classes and subclasses. In Google Patents, look for "Classifications".


Classifications for a patent on wind turbine apparatus


Another strategy: browse the CPC Scheme or run keyword searches for matching classes with the USPTO's Classification Text Search.


2. Search by field.
Patent fields include inventor, assignee (owner), and patent number. Field searching is most useful for finding a known patent or patents held by a known person or corporation.


3. Search by keyword.
An increasing proportion of patents are available online with full text, making keyword searching more effective. But keyword searches may retrieve an overwhelming number of results or may fail to reflect the technical language used in patent writing. Use keyword searching (1) as a step to identify classes and subclasses; and (2) to supplement classification searching.

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