What is a patent?
According to WIPO: A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention, which is a product or a process that provides, in general, a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem. To get a patent, technical information about the invention must be disclosed to the public in a patent application.
Learn more about patents, the different types of patents, and exactly what they protect here at WIPO.
Researching patents can be a little bit complicated, but is totally worth it. Exploring different patents to see their descriptionsand schematics is actually really cool and interesting.
Where to look for patents?
- Google Patent is the most user-friendly platform for looking at patents, though it is not comprehensive so if you are doing very serious patent research, or looking to patent your own invention, Google Patent should be used as a starting point only. You would also want to research on the official USPTO website too.
- Free Patents Online is a little bit less user-friendly for beginners, but is more comprehensive than Google Patent. This is a good place to go after you've started on Google Patent, or if you are not a beginner at patent research.
- USPTO Patent Search is the official US Patent and Trademark Office's patent database. This is the most official and comprehensive online database of patents, so it is the best place to research, but the search interface is less user-friendly to beginners than the previous two links.
How to look for patents
If you know the patent number, it is as easy as copy/paste the patent number into any of the patent databases listed above. Unfortunately, it is not usually that easy, since we don't usually have the patent number at the ebginning of our research process.
If you don't have the patent number, searching for patents online can be more complicated than you might think. The reason for this is that we are used to doing keyword searches online. But patents rarely have the actual name of the product on the patent. So if you search for the name of a product like "nintendo switch" you won't find the patent that way, because the patent for the Switch doesn't say the words "Nintendo Switch" anywhere on it.
Why don't patents include the product's actual name?
Patents usually describe the product rather than naming it. So, for example, the patents for the Nintendo Switch will describe the product instead of calling it the Nintendo Switch. They might call it something like "video game system." Similarly, the Kindle e-reader isn't called the Kindle on its patent. In fact, its patent never says the word Kindle. It is called an "electronic media reader."
This can make finding the patents for your product difficult, becuase you need to find it without using it's actual name. There are a couple ways of doing this, though.
First make up a keyword list including as much as you know about the item. If you know the company that owns it, the name of the inventor/s, or any important descriptive words you can think of. Some of the words might prove to be unimportant, but its a good habit to get into to list as much as you know, because you don't know which will be helpful and which will not.
For example, if I were trying to find the patent for the Kindle, my keyword list might look like this:
- Elecontric book reader
- Jeff Bezos (name of owner of amazon)
- Foxconn (name of the manufactorer)
- Gregg Zehr (name of guy heading the amazon lab when kindle was invented)
Try googling first
The easiest way to start is to see if you can google "patent number for (enter your product name here)" to see if you can find out the patent number that way. If it shows up, just copy the number and paste it into Google Patent and it will pull the patent right up.
Example: When I googled this about Kindle, it immediately gave me the patent number. So I copy/pasted that number into Google Patent, and it instantly found the patent.
Or try keyword searching
If googling the patent number does not work, start trying different variations of your keywords into the patent search bar. As results pages come up, scan and skim, looking for results that have other keywords included. It will take a lot of digging and re-thinking, and trying new keyword strings before you are likely to find what you are looking for. Patent research takes perseverence.