Patent Research FAQ v.2.2

Skip to first unread message

David Novak

Apr 17, 2004, 7:28:22 AM4/17/04
Archive-name: internet/patent-research-faq
Posting-Frequency: monthly
Last-modified: Mar 02 2000
Copyright: (c) 2000 David Novak
Maintainer: David Novak <>

Patent Research FAQ

Welcome. This FAQ introduces the tools and concepts used in patent
research. We are covering the process of locating comparable patents -
not the legal process of patent protection.

This FAQ resides at and

This FAQ is just a small part of a much larger effort to help you with
information research. The Spire Project is available as 3 website,
mirrors, zip-file, and 3 other faqs. I have included here a text version
ofour patent research (

David Novak -
The Spire Project :,,

Patent Research

A patent discloses certain facts about a commercially important
invention in exchange for certain rights to exploit the invention. This
is a little simplistic, but explains why patents are factual, unique
from other research resources, and a little vague in certain specifics.
(See a sample a sample US patent[1], Australian patent[2], and this
brief description[3].)

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.



Free Patent Databases

These databases are freely available online:

[4] The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO[89]) provides a US Patent
Bibliographic database at[4] with full use of fields,
date and abstract text searching. Choose between their boolean
search[5], advanced (field) search[6] or by US patent number[7]. They
also maintain a fulltext [US] Aids Patent Database and other resources.

[43] The IBM's Patent Server is a public service providing a different
patent database[43] of US Patent abstracts. The IBM service is similar
but different from the USPTO service - certainly not less powerful.

[8] The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO[9]) maintains the
Canadian Patent Bibliographic Database[8] which extends from '89 to the
present. Abstracts are not provided. Descriptive info is here[8].

[9] The Japanese Patent Office ([9]) has a searchable
database of Japanese patent abstracts[10], which includes the patent
number, title, inventor, company, and abstract of the patent.

There are more free patent databases - but each is limited and not as
research-worthy. Consider also the Internet Patent Search System[11].
Gregory Aharonian (remember 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, also delivers abstract
retrieval, but I like the more minimal title lists here.


Patent libraries are an important and cost-effective patent resource.


IP Australia ([4]) (formerly the Australian
Industrial Property Organisation (AIPO)) has a patent library in each
state capital[13]. Each library provides free access to the APAS
database (Australian Patent Abstract Search) and includes a complete
microfiche copy of all Australian patents and the Australian Official
Journal of Patents, Trademarks & Designs (the official Australian patent

Most offices also hold US Patents on microfiche!, so the free US patent
databases will also interest you. Staff will help you use the APAS
database, arranged for free text searching by International Patent

[13] A particularly useful service by IP Australia is the delivery of
copies of many foreign patents for AU$15. You will need the patent
number, country and title for this.

United States

The US Patent and Trade Mark Organization (USPTO[89]) has the Patent and
Trademark Depository Library Program (PTDL's[21]) - which places the
CASSIS database (The USPTO patent abstract database on CD-rom) and US
patents around the US. Here is a list of sites[20].

US Full text Images are not visible on most web browsers. The images are
in 300 dpi TIFF format. To view, get a free TIFF browser plugin for your
a) Try CPC light[12] or AlternaTIFF[13]
b) Consult this list[14] at the USPTO.

Further, the USPTO provides US Patent Bibliographic & fulltext (with
images) databases online[4] with full use of fields, date and abstract
text searching. Choose between their boolean search[5], advanced (field)
search[6] or by US patent number[7]. The IBM's Patent Server provides a
different patent database[43] of US Patent abstracts.

[7] If you have the US patent #, retrieve the abstract from the

[15] US patent libraries also hold the Official Gazette of the U.S.
Patent and Trademark Office, The official US patent gazette.
Importantly, the gazette is fully online[15], and searchable from

United Kingdom

The [UK] Patent Office ([16]) provides for the Patents
Information Network (PIN[23]) which hosts patent information in the UK.
This page includes a clickable map[23]. The British Library is one
listed source of UK patents (further information online[17]) and
delivers some patent services.


The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) ([9])
produces the Canadian Patent Index (CPI). They also publish The Patent
Office Record, Canada's official patent gazette.

[8] CIPO maintains a free Canadian Patent Fulltext Database[8]. This
database is on par with the US Patent Database, with perhaps even better
searching technology. Fielded & boolean searches are possible and
abstracts, claims & pdf files are retrieved. Read this database
overview[18] then use their advanced search[19].

Other Countries

There are many more national & international patent organizations.
Intitut National de la Propriete Industrielle[49] [France]
World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)[20]
European Patent Office[21]

If you need to find other sites, consider reviewing this list by IP
Australia[22], the USPTO[23], and David Wareing[24].

[25] CSIRO keeps a list of addresses for European Patent Libraries[25]


One of the most invaluable resources in serious patent research is
access to several of the very large commercial patent databases.

Commercial Patent Databases

Lexis-Nexis ([51]) retails several patent databases.
Thanks to Patscan (University of British Columbia), we also a guide to
searching patents on Lexis-Nexis[26].

The Dialog Corporation ([44]) retails a collection of
patent databases including:
Derwent World Patents Index[27] [Files 351,352,280]
CLAIMS/U.S. PATENTS[29] [Files 340,341,942]
and others

Cassis Database no details at this moment.

A little more information can be found with the Patent Guide to using
CASSIS[31], at the University of Michigan.

Derwent Scientific and Patent Information ( is a
prominent publisher of Patent and scientific information including
commercial databases.

Questel-Orbit ([54]) also retails patent databases,
but we have not explored this venue yet.

CAS/STN ([17]) retails a collection of patent databases
Chemical Patents Plus[32] for U.S. Chemical patents

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 ([33]) within the University of
British Columbia, provides patent search and retrieval services through
databases like MicroPatent, the European Patent Office and others.

QPAT ([34]) offers full text patent searching for paying
subscribers and free front page information of all U.S. patents issued
since 1974 for people who register.

MicroPatent ([29]) offers limited recent patent
searching and downloading of patent images for a fee. They have a
registration system for the free service.


3 Second Summary:
Free internet patent databases exist for US, Canada, Japan & Australia.
A better search strategy makes use of patent classifications.
Patents are legalistic, with delays & delayed coverage in other countries.

Until recently, the legal profession has had a complete monopoly on
patent work. As you can see, this need no longer be the case. Casual
researchers will find the free patent databases easy to use, and more
experienced researchers should not be dissuaded from searching the
commercial databases or patent libraries themselves. The very large
commercial databases, like Inpadoc, are particularly easy to use.

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.


Patent Classification All patents are given a special number.
Unfortunately, each country has a distinct numbering scheme: US patents
are assigned a consecutive patent number (currently 5 million+).
Australian patents have an alphanumeral which includes the year.
Canadian patents are numbered.

Above these numbering systems, we have the International Patent
Classification (IPC), by the World Intellectual Property Organization
(WIPO[20]). Most every country uses the IPC to classify patents, save
the US. US Patent Classification is similar in many ways.

International Patent Classification

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 6th Edition (1994). Work on IPC 7th Edition is well

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

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.
International Patent Classification : Guide, Survey of Classes & Summary
of Main Groups
International Patent Classification : Section G - Physics
International Patent Classification : Guide

Thanks to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), these
full documents are online (see this page[35]). We now have direct access
to the International Patent Classification (6th Edition):
Official Catchword Index[36], Guide to the IPC[37], and the complete
Class and Section books[38].

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, and we strongly recommend you read the Introductory
Manual to the International Patent Classification (IPC)[39] found on the
WIPO website.

US. Patent Classification

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: by full text searching through the
USPTO database CASSIS (found at US patent libraries), by bibliographic &
abstract text searching online through the USPTO or IBM Patent Library,
by US Patent number,by US Patent Classification class & subclass - to
list similar patents,by an effective combination search (see patent
research strategy),by the searching recent notices in the Official
Gazette... available online. The USPTO allows you to search or browse
the US Manual of Classification[4] online. The Internet Patent Search
System[40] lets you to browse US Patent titles by class/subclass.

A little more information can be found with the Patent Guide to using
CASSIS[31], at the University of Michigan.

Patent Search Strategies Here are the avenues open to you:

1_ Full text searching and retrieval through a commercial database.
2_ Free bibliographic & abstract searching online followed by selective
patent perusal/ordering.
3_ Paging manually through the relevant official gazette (the US gazette
is searchable[15]).
4_ Retrieval of the titles & abstracts within appropriate class/subclass
then selective review and patent perusal/ordering.

This last avenue is particularly resourceful and swift. Start by
reaching for The Official Catchword Index [here[36]], a book by World
Intellectual Property Organization. This will tell you the possible
class/subclasses which 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 which lead you from section
to subclass.

The result should be a collection of class/subclasses which may interest

With this information, you can now browse all the patents in the
class/subclass. This process will help you locate all the patents which
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

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.

Further Search Strategy

[39] Patent search strategy is further discussed in the Introductory
Manual to the International Patent Classification (IPC)[39] found on the
WIPO website.

[41] You may also wish to reach Searching for patents[41] from the
University of Michigan, and Patents[42] by Simon Fraser University

This article comes from The Spire Project.
Advice welcome : email
[1] [2]

Copyright (c) 1999 by David Novak, all rights reserved.
This FAQ may be posted to any USENET newsgroup, on-line service,
website, or BBS as long as it is posted unaltered in its entirety
including this copyright statement. This FAQ may not be included in
commercial collections or compilations without express permission from
the author. Permission requests to

Legalities: Information supplied here is put forward in good faith and
entirely without expressed or implied warranty or fitness for use. The
contents of this faq is simply a collection of information gathered from
many sources with little or no editorial or factual checking. Further,
this information are the thoughts of the authors alone and may not
represent the beliefs of Community Networking or any sponsoring
organization. Should you find a mistake or claim copyright infringement,
please contact David Novak of Community Networking.
David Novak -

Reply all
Reply to author
0 new messages