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Patent Searching: Home

This guide supplements other existing guides by emphasizing patent contents and search strategies.

Why Search for Patents?

Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay (CC0)

Patent literature contains a wealth of information that can be used for a variety of purposes.  Three common objectives within academia are to:

  • check the NOVELTY of an idea;
  • determine the STATE OF THE ART in a particular field; and
  • provide EVIDENCE OF THE VALUE of research.

The first of these is a primary concern of inventors, and seeks to determine whether specific attributes of an idea exist in the patent or public domain.  Most often, those checking for novelty are interested in both what has been disclosed by previous inventors, and what has been claimed (see Patents 101). 

The second of the common objectives may be employed by researchers and inventors in order to understand the research landscape and where gaps exist in the field - this is informed primarily by what has been disclosed

The last item helps to establish researchers' impacts on their fields and facilitates receipt of further funding.  Here the researcher is often most interested in what research is cited in the patent art.



Types of Patent Documents

Different types of patent documents are available to help satisfy information needs in the use cases mentioned on the left. These include:

  • Patent Applications - these documents have been filed with the patent office and have been published, but have not been issued.  Some of these may have been rejected during the application process; others may still be working towards issuance.
  • Issued Patents - these documents have been examined and have been determined to meet criteria established by the patent office. They have been granted patent status. Issued patents comprise patents that are active and also those that are no longer active because they have expired or have been abandoned.
  • File Wrapper - these documents include all items that are filed with the patent office during the application process, including original patent applications and subsequent correspondences with the patent office. In the international arena, this is known as the Dossier.

Limitations of Patent Documents

When considering the value of patent documents for research, recognize that, just as for other types of publications, THE REVIEW PROCESS CONTROLS THE QUALITY.  Recognize that the patent review process is a legal review, and not primarily a technical review.  Consider:

  • Very few technical requirements are placed on what can be patented
  • Patent examiners do have some technical background but they are not experts in all fields
  • The patent review process and the explosion of patent literature place real bounds on how much time is spent in review

Thus, the fact that a device has received a patent does not necessarily speak to the "goodness" of the technology, but it generally speaks to its novelty and utility (see Patents 101).

Check out some of these less than earth-shattering inventions (courtesy!


The purpose of this website is to collect patent searching resources for academic researchers.  We make no representation of any legal expertise; further assistance may be obtained from the various patent offices and competent legal practitioners.