A USPTO patent search: 
a beginners guide to doing a patent search on the US patents and tradmarks office website

A uspto patent search is one of the most common patents searches that new inventors find themselves doing.

Uspto patent search, stands for the ‘United States Patent and Trademark office’ patent search. However, people often get confused and refer to it as the US patent and copyright office and other similar names.

The US is one of the largest potential markets in the world, and one most inventors would like to target for their inventions.

Even if you are not looking to do a patent search on the us patent office home page specifically, and you rather use another free patent search engine to do your search, this guide will help you to understand the process of conducting a patents search.

What are we searching for?

The aim of your search is to find out if your invention idea is new and original. If a very similar patent comes up in your uspto patent search results, and you, as the inventor, cannot see a unique difference between your own invention idea and that which has previously been patented – your invention is most likely not new.

However, the fact that you couldn’t find anything similar to your invention is also usually a cause for concern.

You might not have come up with the right description or classification for your invention idea. A similar patent might still exist, but you haven't found it yet.

My advice is to do your search again and again. Try doing the search on different days and with a fresh outlook. You might think of a different classification or description that is appropriate for your invention idea.

You should also consider trying a different free patent search engine, instead of the uspto patent search. It might give you ideas as to right terms you need to be looking for.

Once you are sure no similar patent exists and you feel confident that you have done a comprehensive uspto patent search, only then start looking into approaching a patent attorney. Most will give you a free 30 minutes consultation, and can comment on anything you did or didn’t find, during your uspto patent search.

How to do a uspto patent search

There are two ways to do a uspto patent search:

  1. a keyword search
  2. an index classification search

The keywords search allows you to input the terms that are most relevant to your invention idea.

Once you click ‘search’ your search results list will show any patents that contain those terms somewhere in the patent document text.

The search results, however, will only show patents published from 1976 onward.

Another more comprehensive way to do a search, is by using the classification index of the uspto patent search database.This search brings results from the entire database, as far back as 1790.

Most people without the appropriate professional background, usually avoid searching through the index system, as it is perceived as somewhat scary and “analytic”.

No need to fear – I will show you how to do it –step by step.

Step one: What keywords should I use?

The first step before approaching your uspto patent search, is to decide which terms are most relevant to your invention. Those are the terms you will use in the two different searches mentioned above.

Ask yourself the following questions:

What best describes your invention? What problems does the invention solve? What does it do? As a result of using your invention –what happens? What is your invention used for? How does it work?

Come up with a list of terms that properly describe your invention, its benefits, what it’s made of (if that’s relevant to the invention idea) and what it is used for (feeding?, painting? Driving?).

It’s always helpful to keep an inventions notebook, where you will be able to easily brainstorm ideas for future inventions, and keywords relevant to a patent search.

Remember, these things take time. You need to think of your invention from different perspectives, make sure you have covered any possible interpretation in order to be able to check the right classifications in your uspto patent search.

Once you have tight list of search terms to use - move on to the next step.

Step two: doing a key word search on recent patents

If you are using the keyword search, you can now go directly to the us patent office home page click on “search” under the left pane (the one titled “patents”) and then click on quick search .

Input your terms in the boxes provided, choose “all fields” and once you hit the search button you will get a list of patents.

Not all of them will be relevant. Remember, somewhere in the patent text the words you were searching for exist, but this doesn't necessarily mean the all patents that came up are relevant to your search.

Try refining the terms you are using in the search, choose to search in a specific field such as “title” or “abstract” or change the field criteria (the drop down menu between the search term fields) from “and” to “and not”.

Step three: index classification uspto patent search

To do a proper uspto patent search, across all patents and patent applications published since 1790 you need to search within the US patent classification system.

On the classification system, click on the first letter of the most descriptive term of your invention, within the “index in HTML” line.

For example, if you invented a new type of Toaster, click on T.

Scroll down on the page until you find the your descriptive term. In our example: “toaster”. You can also use the find command in your browser (usually by clicking CTRL + F) and typing “toaster” (your invention term).

Look at the subheadings under your term and choose the one that most describes your invention. If none of the subheadings fits your invention exactly, do the process again with another descriptive term.

In our example of “toaster” you can choose between Bread, Automatic and household unit.

The numbers in blue next to the headings hint that there are more subclasses under each class and that you should look at the subclasses near your classification.

In our example I will choose Bread with class 99 and subclass 385.

We now need to look at our classification code in the manual of classification.

Click on your subclass – 385 in this case. Once we click on this sub classification we see that 385 corresponds with “slice toaster or broiler”. If we scroll up on the page, we see that the general class 99 corresponds to FOODS AND BEVERAGES: APPARATUS.

Ok, back to our subclass. To the left of our description we can see dots. The fewer dots you see the less specific the subclass.

Slice toaster or broiler has one dot, so we know its quite a general description. But if we look at subclasses above or below 385, we can see that some of them have more dots (up to 7 dots).

More dots hint at more specificity. What do I mean by specificity? The more dots are next to a subclass the more specific class of toaster it is.

In our example a "slice toaster or broiler2 has one dot - it’s quite a general description of a toaster.

However, below it at 387 we can see “With magazine supply”. This is a more specific sub class of toasters and indeed it has three dots to the left.

If you want to get even more specific, to find the exact subclass of your invention, scroll to the top of the page and at the drop down menu with the header: “select expansion level” choose: “expand all indent levels”.

This will make sure that you see the most specific sub classes in your class.

Made it so far? Great. we are almost done. At this stage you either found the right subclass of your invention, or you have discovered that you are barking up the wrong tree.

You might need to go back and revise the descriptive term you chose for your invention. Think creatively – 'toast maker' could also be 'bread heather' etc etc.

Once you have found the right subclass for your invention you are ready for the next step!

Step four: Class definition in the uspto patent search

Click on the number of the subclass you found most relevant to your invention.

In our example we will click on the number 385 – slice toaster or broiler. We are now at the definitions page.

Here you will find the definition that the uspto patent search system gives to the specific class - this is your chance to check if this description correctly describes your invention idea.

In our example the description says:

This subclass is indented under subclass 324. Cooking apparatus peculiarly adapted to support food material in the form of a slice while undergoing heat treatment. The support is noncontinuous, such as a grid, to permit direct action of the heat or heated vapor on the material and usually has portions cooperating with both sides of the slice.

You will also sometimes find suggestion for other relevant classes and sub classes to explore. In our example the uspto patent search database is offering us to check class 126: 'stoves and furnaces' and class 219: 'electric heating'. It also suggests subclass 372 for “nonforaminous slice supports”.

Does this definition correctly describes your invention idea? If yes, move on. If no, go back to the start and try again.

This process is long and takes quite a bit of time. BUT- if you want to be sure you are doing it correctly its worth playing with the different terms. Otherwise you can use some of the more intuitive free online patent search engines or use paid patent search service to do this work for you.

If you are still with us, lets move to the final step.

Step five: browsing and reviewing your patent list

Next to the subclass number you chose as the most appropriate for your invention idea, you can see a capital letter P in red.

You guessed it, this is where our patents are hiding. Click on that “P” and start browsing the patents that come up to your heart content.

Not sure that list of patents exactly matches what your patent is about? You are either about to get lucky, and your invention idea is truly unique and new, or, more likely, you should do your search all over again to find a better classification.

In many cases it is worth checking some of the more recent free patent search engines.

Some of the new ones offer a more intuitive way to search for patents and some advanced searching methodologies that might make the process easier to handle.


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