I am often asked by inventors “Can I do my own patent pending search?” The answer is yes, but read this first.
Can I do my own patent pending search?
Inventors can certainly do their own search of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database for both pending patent applications and issued patents. The search is free, and can be accessed online at the US PTO website. This site includes several resources for inventors, including a video titled “How to Conduct a Preliminary U.S. Patent Search: A Step by Step Strategy.” The site also links to several other resources, such as the USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database (PatFT) for searching issued patents; and the USPTO Patent Applicatoin Full-Text and Image Database (AppFT) for published applications. There is also a link to Search International Patent Offices.
Free and Paid Resources to do a patent pending search
There are other online resources for searching patents, including the Google Patent Search, which can be easier in some ways, than using the US PTO website. Other resources, both free and paid, are also available.
Should an inventor do their own invention search? That depends. How comfortable are you using search databases. Are you familiar with how to use search operators such as Boolean operators (AND – OR) to broaden or narrow your search? Are you familiar with all of the terms that might be used to describe the invention? Are you familiar with legal terms that may be used to describe the invention?
Finding prior art is easy – but can you interpret it?
Even if you are able to answer yes to all of these questions, more important is do you know how to read a patent (or pending application for a patent) that you find during your search to determine whether your invention might be patentable in view of the prior art references? For example, did you know that a prior art reference can be cited against your patent application as disclosing your invention, even though the inventor did not “claim” a particular embodiment? Simply disclosing an embodiment is sufficient to be considered prior art that a Patent Examiner can cite against your patent application and deny the claims (and the patent application from issuing).
That brings me back to my original answer to this question – yes, but. Yes, an inventor can do his or her own patent search, if the inventor is familiar with the search tools available, and how to conduct an effective search. The second part of my answer though, goes to whether the inventor understands how to interpret the search results to make a determination whether the invention is patentable.
That’s where it is best to get the professional opinion of a patent attorney. Patent searches are fairly inexpensive. Trenner Law Firm offers patent searches and full written opinions through the Online Patent Law Firm. In-person meetings to go over the search results are also available if you’re in Colorado.