Do I have access to all the United States Patents on the Internet?
You have access to all United States patents (full text as well as drawings) as well as access to all published United States patent applications at www.uspto.gov.
I’m not sure what a patent is?
Good point! For a good overview of patents, go to Patents for Independent Inventors.
I don’t want to move off of this page. How do stay on this site and get an overview of other types of intellectual property like trademarks or copyright?
Go the www.uspto.gov and look at the headings at the top of the page and click on Trademarks and then click on Trademarks Basics. For copyright information you can go directly to the U.S. Copyright Office.
How do I start my patent search?
We recommend that you sit down and in your own words write a description of your invention. Include how it is put together and emphasize how this particular device is different from all the other devices out there.
How do I go online and begin searching the USPTO Website?
First of all you have to make sure you have a “TIFF” program installed in your PC so you can see the patent drawings. You can access a selection of TIFF programs (all at no cost) at www.uspto.gov/patft/help/images.htm. Choose the TIFF program appropriate to your needs (Apple, Microsoft Windows, or Linux).
I’ve got my TIFF program, so what do I do next?
Go to www.uspto.gov and click on the “Search Box” in the upper right hand of the page and type in the words, uspc classification. This step allows us to get into the United States Patent Classification Index.
What do I do when I get to the Classification Index?
Choose the term in the index that describes your invention. In this example we are going to choose the term “bicycle” because our invention is for bicycle handlebars. Clicking on the letter B in the classification index and then clicking on “bicycle” we come across the sub-heading “handlebars” under the class number 74 (machine element or mechanism) and the subclass 551+ (folding or adjustable handlebars). We need to click on these class and subclass numbers because we seem to be dealing with a utility patent. How do we know this? We know this because we don’t see the letter D in front of the class number, indicating a design patent. For a good description and review of the different kinds of patents, go back to the Patents for Independent Inventors page.
OK, why do I have to click on the class and subclass numbers when I’m searching utility patents?
We need to click on those class and subclass numbers in order to read the definitions, so we can tell if we are searching in the right subject matter. Let’s click on class number 74 and subclass 551+ to see what the definitions tell us. Because class 551 has a plus sign after it, we know that there are several subclass numbers that follow. When we click on the number we see that 551.3 is especially interesting. 551.3 indicates that the handlebars are foldable or adjustable relative to the post, and the handlebars we want to patent are foldable.
How do I see the individual patents and patent applications for foldable handlebars?
When we clicked on class 74 and subclass 551.3 we noticed a “red P” to the left of the number. Click on that red P and you will see a list of patents for foldable bicycle handlebars in the USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database. Click on the first patent listed and look at the text. Don’t forget to check the patent applications as well as the granted patents. To find patent applications for this class and subclass click on the “blue A” to the left of the 551.3 for a list of current applications on foldable handlebars. It is important to search both granted patents and patent applications when you are researching your invention.
What should I be paying attention to when I look at the patent?
- Look at the Current U.S. Class field. If there are several class and subclass numbers here, you probably want to check the definitions and patents under these numbers.
- Look at the Current International Class and soon to be universal, the Cooperative Patent Classification System field. If you want to broaden your search to current United States patents (January 1, 2013--) as well as foreign patents, these class numbers will help your search in the appropriate subject matter. To brush up your skills in understanding the mysteries of the Cooperative Patent Classification System, visit the ECLA search utility at: http://worldwide.espacenet.com/eclasrch?locale=en_EP&classification=ecla. What exactly is the Cooperative Patent Classification System? It is a bilateral system which has been jointly developed by the European Patent Office (EPO) and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), combining the best classification practices of the two offices. Translation: we better get used to it. The good news is that we can translate the United States Patent Classification System classification numbers into the Cooperative Classification System classification numbers by visiting www.uspto.gov/web/patents/classification/ and clicking on the USPC bubble and choosing USPC. Then we choose Statistical Mapping from USPTO to CPC in the Select Content Box. One of the classification numbers that should come up is B62K 21/16. This CPC number is a close match to the USPTO class and subclass 74/551+. Use the CPC class numbers to find U.S. patents as well as European patents, and don’t be afraid to plug in those CPC codes in a Google advanced patent search: www.google.com and type in “advanced patent search” to find American as well as foreign patents.
- Look at the Field of Search. These are the class and subclass numbers the Patent Examiner has checked.
- Look for References Cited and click on the patent numbers of other inventions that influenced this particular invention.
- Look at the Claims of this invention. What are claims, you ask? Check out the glossary section of the USPTO Website at www.uspto.gov/main/glossary/index.html for definitions of the patent and trademark terms you don’t know. According to the glossary, claims define the invention and are what aspects are legally enforceable.
- Pay attention to the prior or related art sections of your patent. Prior art usually is interpreted as the state of knowledge publicly available either before the date of your invention or more than one year prior to your earliest patent application date (Section 102 of the patent law paraphrased). To get a patent, your invention must be novel. If it has been hanging around in the public or on the market for too long, you will not be granted a patent.
- Pay attention to the description of the drawings, so you have an idea of how you will describe the drawings of your invention.
- Look at the detailed description of the preferred embodiments. What is a preferred embodiment? The USPTO glossary tells us that the embodiment is “the manner in which an invention can be made, used, practiced, or expressed.” Remember, as the inventor, you must make a full disclosure of the best uses for your invention, and the embodiment section is where you can accomplish this goal.
I’ve been reading and reading the patent and I have no idea what this invention is about. How do I get to look at the drawings?
Now you can understand why we made a fuss about the TIFF program. If you have a TIFF program installed, you will have no problem accessing the drawings. Just go to the top of your screen and click on Images. Notice the Full Text Help prompt to the left of the patent. You can navigate and print the patent and drawings one page at a time.
What do I do if I can’t find a term for my invention in the Index to the U.S. Patent Classification System?
Go back to your Patent Search page and look at your Quick Search and Advanced Search options. Caution! Word searches in the USPTO Website only cover patents issued after 1975. For word search coverage for older patents, you can go to GOOGLE Patents. Click on advanced search, and try a word search. Caution! Word searches are very imprecise. Once you find a patent that is similar to your invention, immediately examine the classes and subclasses attached to that patent, and do a new search using these numbers. Note: GOOGLE has a nice bridge to the USPTO Website on each patent listed in the GOOGLE patents site.
What’s an easy way to plug in those class and subclass numbers, so I can do a patent search on the USPTO Website?
Go to the Access Classification Info Symbol page and click on the USPC (United States Patent Classification) button and plug in your class and subclass numbers in the appropriate search boxes. Choose either Schedule or Definitions in the Select Content Box, and click on the submit button. You are now on your way to a much more thorough search of your invention.
Is it necessary to search patent applications as well as issued patents?
In a word, yes! Don’t ever forget to check the patent applications as well as the granted patents. To find patent applications for this class and subclass click on the “blue A” to the left of the 551.3 in in the United States Patent Classification Schedule for a list of current applications on foldable handlebars. It is always important to search both granted patents and patent applications when you are researching your invention. Remember that we have to pay attention to prior art, and patent applications count as prior art.
Would it help to broaden my search by looking up patents on foreign websites?
The broader the search, the better off you are in establishing whether your item is indeed new and different and thus eligible to be patented. Go to www.uspto.gov and go to the upper right-hand corner of the site to FAQs. Click on FAQs and choose Other Web Resources. Here you need to choose Other Intellectual Property Offices. Don’t expect to find the same level of detail when you search the foreign patent sites. Only the United States Patent Office offers full text and drawings for all United States patents. No free or commercial foreign patent website offers this kind of coverage for both its historical and current patents.
Are there any local workshops to help me with my patent search?
Louisville Free Public library (LFPL) offers a monthly lab workshop on patents and trademarks. This workshop is geared to inventors and individuals seeking patents and/or trademarks. Each class offers a tutorial on how to search patents and trademarks on the USPTO Website. Interested individuals need only to show up to the Computer Learning Center at the Main Library at the time of the workshop. No registration is necessary and all LFPL workshops are free. Call the Patents and Trademarks Librarian at 574-1617, or for information on the next workshop, call 574-1611, or search the Library's Online Calendar.
Are there any online tutorials that would take me through the patent search process?
For a great online tutorial from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, go to http://www.uspto.gov/products/library/ptdl/tutorials.jsp and take the PTRC program tutorial. To see the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) tutorial, go to www.wipo.int/tisc/en/etutorial.html.
Contact the Patents and Trademarks Librarian:
Louisville Free Public Library
301 York Street, Louisville, KY 40203
Email or call 502-574-1617
Last Updated: 04/17/2013