SEARCHING GOOGLE PATENTS
The patent search site provided by Google can seem a little daunting at first, but once you know what they’re asking for and how to format your query, you’ll be able to do an effective cursory search of existing patents. Remember that this is only a cursory search; unless you find your EXACT idea in there, it still won’t tell you whether your idea is patentable. Also, it may be possible to “design around” any existing patent(s) you do find there. But it can still give you a rough idea of how likely you are to get a patent in the countries that have patents, applications, and other prior art included in the database.
At the bottom of the “About” page are detailed instructions for how to enter your search terms, as well as how to limit or broaden your search. You can sort the search results by oldest, newest, or relevance (the default).
Google groups the results by codes designated under the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) system. These codes help to specify what kind of invention the prior art describes. (For a detailed description of these codes, see this Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooperative_Patent_Classification) Grouping the results this way can be very helpful in narrowing down your search because you can see which code is most likely to apply to your idea and which are not applicable at all.
The navigation through your results is as easy as using the arrow buttons on your computer. You can also modify your search criteria while looking at a specific document. Just be sure to use the “Back to [count] Results” button to update your results by the new criteria.
THE USPTO ONLINE DATABASE
You can go to the USPTO’s website (http://www.uspto.gov) to search on existing patents and published patent applications filed or granted in the US since 1790. Full-text searching is available for issued patents filed since 1976; images are available for those and all older issued patents. Search parameters include the patent number, classification code, issue date, owner, and a host of other fields to help narrow your search.
The website also includes links to search various databases globally, as well as a way to download information about the status of an application, which can be useful in determining whether someone else’s application has been abandoned.
OTHER PLACES TO SEARCH
Besides searching online in the USPTO database and those of other countries, you can search in person at a Patent and Trademark Resource Center (PTRC). These centers, which are located in most US states, are libraries where you can get in-person assistance with your prior art search. They also provide training, as well as resources such as a directory you can use to find a registered patent attorney in your area. For more information, visit the USPTO’s information page at: http://www.uspto.gov/learning-and-resources/support-centers/patent-and-trademark-resource-centers-ptrcs