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Patent Searching Made Easy

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I'm hesitant to use the word easy; things easy to do don't usually have to be identified, and when things aren't all that easy, it's not good to suggest they are. But, Patent Searching Made Easy is the title of a Nolo Press book by David Hitchcock (currently available here at SIBL in its fifth edition), and I'm going to exploit an opportunity to write a little about both this book and patent searching.

There are several reasons to "search" patents. This book is about "prior art" searching, which I'll characterize as trying to see if someone invented and patented your idea ahead of you. So, why do a prior art search before filing for a patent?

Patent Office in Washington., Digital ID 1607781, New York Public LibraryThe Old Patent Office, Washington, D.C.The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), more specifically the Patent Office, is in the business of granting patents. They make money when someone applies for a patent (no refunds!), and make more money granting it. They even get fees if you want to keep your patent active after issuance.

Only one problem with this — they can't just give a patent for any old thing. Applications have to qualify under specific laws; statutes and regulations. Even though the Patent Office wants to grant patents, they can't do it for the wrong reasons. And so, it has to have a very careful examination process.

The Public Search Room, Alexandria, Va.The Public Search Room, Alexandria, Va.One factor that stops a patent from being granted is if the invention has already been patented. Even if a patent has expired, you can't get a new patent for the same thing. And that's one important reason you will want to do a prior art search of patents.

Now on to the book: Patent Searching Made Easy. This book covers online patent searching on the USPTO website. It explains some keyword searching techniques available there and how to use the US Patent Classification System (the method recommended by the USPTO). For someone unfamiliar with the USPTO site, the information here will be very helpful.

The author also introduces searching non-US patents through the European Patent Office's Esp@cenet (Espacenet) website. The explanation includes using the European Classification System — something that will be good to know given the expected changeover by USPTO to a modified version of that system. Another discussion covers Google Patent Search. Google has created PDF versions of almost all US patents, so is the best place to easily obtain copies of the patent images. Plus, Google is great for anyone who just wants to have some fun searching patents.

Inside the Public Search RoomInside the Public Search RoomThere is also a chapter on non-patent sources that can point to prior art. Important, as some inventions are not patented — yet can be out there in the public domain and will prevent a patent from issuing. Recommended are some Google resources, as well as the Thomas Register, government websites, and trade magazines and books.

There are, however, a few problems with this book. Some of the information is outdated, and overall it seems like a fairly substantial revision is necessary. Particularily the discussion of the print versions of the Index to the US Patent Classification System and the Manual of Classification. Both of these have been "retired" — they are no longer published. In addition, the author refers to the CASSIS patent search database, a USPTO product that is being phased out as we speak (although admittedly after the book was published). While perhaps I should be pleased that the author refers readers to Patent Depository Libraries, it's entirely for the PTDLs' old role as provider of print, microforms and DVDs — none of which are currently recommended for patent searching in the library.

Touch Tom's Nose for Good Luck!Touch Tom's Nose for Good Luck!Well, to wrap up: Patent Searching Made Easy is good for substance and for identifying online resources for patent searching. We at SIBL, of course, are excited to be able to work with patent researchers in our role of PTDL, and are happy to help you with patent and trademark resources. But please remember, we no longer use the print or microform patent resources — we've moved on from there. And please don't think it will be "easy" to do a patent search — it's a skill and will take time to get up to speed.

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