This article first addresses the most useful free databases, then describes national patent agency resources, commercial patent databases, then other commercial services. At the end of this article, we describe patent classification and patent search strategy.
There are more free patent databases - but each is limited and not as research-worthy. Consider also the Internet Patent Search System. Gregory Aharonian (remember email@example.com?) currently delivers US Patent titles retrieved by class/subclass. He also delivers Patent abstract retrieval using patent numbers (but currently from 1981 to 1989). As you now know, patent.uspto.gov also delivers abstract retrieval but I like the more minimal title lists here.
Patent libraries are an important and cost-effective patent resource.
One of the most invaluable resources in serious patent research is access to several of the very large commercial patent databases.
In addition to the database retailers and producers, there is a lively industry of patent services.
Patent Libraries : One source of patent assistance is, of course, the distributed patent libraries in each country. In addition to assistance with lodging patent documents, each library provides free access to bibliographical databases, and in the case of Australia, full text US and Australian patents on microfiche. IP Australia will also, for AU$15, retrieve most full patents from other countries (given a patent number, country & title).
PATSCAN (patscan.ca) within the University of British Columbia, provides patent search and retrieval services through databases like MicroPatent, the European Patent Office and others.
QPAT (www.qpat.com) offers full text patent searching for paying subscribers and free front-page information of all US patents issued since 1974 for people who register.
MicroPatent (www.micropat.com) offers limited recent patent searching and downloading of patent images for a fee. They have a registration system for the free service.
Of course, there are occasions when patent searches are critical, and experts should be sought. Certainly legal assistance is required if you are preparing to lodge your own patent but patent data as a source of information is another matter.
Above these numbering systems, we have the International Patent Classification (IPC), by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Most every country uses the IPC to classify patents, save the US. US Patent Classification is similar in many ways.
Thanks to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the International Patent Classification (IPC) works as a universal classification for patents. Started in 1975 and periodically updated, we currently use IPC 7th Edition.
Section, Class & Group. The International Patent Classification looks like this:
At the heart of the IPC is the unique coding of every invention by its specific form or function. The system is highly specific and logical, and includes numerous cross-references to other codes of similar form or function. Think of this as the Dewey Decimal System for patents.
The first letter is the section - one of eight broad categories labeled A through G. A represents Human Necessities. B covers Transport.
Each section is divided into Classes. Each class includes two numbers. In addition, each class is divided into subclasses, the letters which follow the first number.
Each subclass is then divided into groups and subgroups. The number before the slash is the group, the number after the slash is the subgroup. Subgroups only have two digits, with further numbers considered as resting behind a decimal point: 3/46 then 3/464, then 3/47.
Thus A 47 J 27/09 includes the safety device on your rice cooker and B 63 G 11/00 covers your various aircraft carriers.
The IPC system is fully described in these published directories:
The Official Catchword Index by World Intellectual Property Organization.
Thanks to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), these documents are online (see this page). We now have direct access to the International Patent Classification (7th Edition) through a bi-lingual search and directory site at classifications.wipo.int/fulltext/new_ipc/index.htm. The Official Catchword Index is inside.
Note: The International Patent Classification includes plenty of internal references - indicating this group is similar to another group; motorized boats take precedence over boat function. These internal references are important to effectively searching databases. There is more to the IPC, which you can see from the Introductory Manual to the IPC.
US Patents are classified with 400+ main classes and thousands of subclasses. Sound similar to the International Patent Classification? It is. US patents are numbered sequentially.
This means you can find US patents:
1_ Full text searching and retrieval through a commercial database.
This last avenue is particularly resourceful and swift. Start by reaching for The Official Catchword Index [here], a book by World Intellectual Property Organization. This will tell you the possible class/subclasses that will interest you. You could word-search a patent database and note all the class/subclasses found. Lastly, you can always reach for the three separate printed guides that lead you from section to subclass.
The result should be a collection of class/subclasses that may interest you.
With this information, you can now browse all the patents in the class/subclass. This process will help you locate all the patents that may interest you since patent classification is more reliable than free text search. (Note, both British and American spelling appears in patent databases.) This also allows you to quickly review the patents in other countries.
If you are undertaking a novelty search - is a patent sufficiently unique from other existing patents - then you must review more than one country. There can be a significant delay before patent applications reach other countries without affecting the protection. Case in point: Australia only accounts for 7% of the world's patents.
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