On the road to SBIR/STTR Success – A New Way to Search the US Patent Database
Intellectual property (IP), including patents, trademarks and trade secrets is critical for companies to be competitive in the marketplace. Companies especially rely on patents to gain an exclusive time-limited right to make, import, sell and use their inventions, thus minimizing competitive activity. As intellectual property can be licensed or sold, it adds value to the company, making it more attractive to investors. Taken together, an understanding of the patent landscape for your company’s technology or product is important to optimally position it in the marketplace. This business aspect must be addressed in SBIR/STTR Phase 2 applications in the Commercialization Plan under the Competition section. A convenient way to identify companies and institutions in that are doing similar kinds of work is through patent searching. Searches for US patents have just become easier and more robust.
Introducing Patent Public Search
The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has recently updated their US Patent Database search interface with new functionality and ease of use. Patent Public Search will replace legacy search tools PatFT (full text and images for patents issued from 1976 to the present, and pdf images for patents from 1790 to present) and AppFT (full text of patent applications published from March 2001 to the present) that were directly available to the public. A retirement date of September, 2022 has been scheduled for these older platforms.
It’s straightforward to begin a search session with Patent Public Search. From the Patent Public Search landing page, select the databases you’d like to search: USPAT (text database of US patents), US-PGPUB (published applications) and USOCR (patents from the 1840’s to 1970). The searchable indexes include the commonly used search of text within the title, applicant, inventor, abstract and claims, but there are >200 other choices. The options vary for each of the databases; this site provides a list and the format you’ll need to enter into the search box. Further search assistance is under the ‘?Help tab’ on the search page, that offers a quick guide to use of wildcards, Boolean search terms (and, or, not, xor), commonly used indexes, and keyboard shortcuts.
The search output is a spreadsheet-style list of patents and associated information. A click on the Document ID (patent number) opens a new panel with options for viewing the patent in either a text format with the search terms highlighted or a patent image. Using the icons on the top bar of the panel, either version of the patent document can be printed or the image downloaded as a pdf to your own computer for future reference. The patent list can be exported to a spreadsheet by selecting the patents of interest, right click on the first column, choose ‘Copy’ from the pop-up menu and then paste into a new spreadsheet. Currently there is not a way to save searches to a personal account that can be revisited at a later date.
Patent Public Search offers an intuitive and highly customizable interface for patent searching, and only its most basic functionality is described here. To further assist users, the USPTO has a FAQ list accessible from the landing page and a Quick Reference Guide that is a good introduction to the service. The USPTO hosts virtual and in-person educational seminars about intellectual property, including patent database searches as listed here.
PatFT and AppFT (legacy patent search platforms)
Patent Public Search Tool
Searchable Indexes in Patent Public Search
Quick Reference Guide to Patent Public Search
List of USPTO educational seminars (in-person and virtual)
Keywords: SBIR grant, STTR grant, patent writer, patent search, us patent database