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Patent searching is an art form. Literally. That satisfying feeling of crafting the perfect search is nothing less than “an activity of imaginative or creative self-expression”. To find the patents you are looking for, you need to express a set of criteria within your search tool in order to define a specific result. A result that you must do your best to anticipate and predict. In other words, you need to imagine what you might find before you look for it.
The details already known by you might be numerous. Perhaps you know the terminology and language of the technology spaces in which a patent was developed. Perhaps you know the companies involved in the production of the relevant products. Maybe you know the year of inception for a specific technology, the inventors who dreamt it up, or the lawyers who protected it. Unfortunately, you won’t know everything, so this article will help you to make use of the clues and ideas that you are aware of, in order to find out about the things that you’re not.
First we will cover the basics of Boolean searching, and how to build simple and complex queries. Then we'll go over other specifics, such as the scope of a search, the language and terminology you should avoid or utilize, and how to use the different parts of a patent in a search.
Types of Search Available in PatSnap
There are multiple types of searches available on PatSnap, and each one of them has different advantages in various scenarios.
The screenshot below shows you the page you would normally see after signing in. It corresponds to the simple search, but you can find tabs that will take you to the different search types right above the search bar. Simple, advanced, bulk, semantic, expand, classification, legal, image, and literature.
You'll find yourself utilizing the topics covered in this article mostly when performing Simple and Advanced searches.
When coming up with an effective patent search, it is important to understand the basics of Boolean searching, which ensures that you correctly define the relationship between any keywords, terms or fields you want to use in the search. Boolean searching can be thought of like an algebraic equation. It has many different aspects which can be important at different times and it can have many different elements which interact based on the commands you give them.
In this article, we are going to focus on Operators, Fields, and a few more elements relevant to our search engine. You can access a list of the fields and operators supported in PatSnap at any time. All you need to do is click on "search helper" at the bottom of the smart search bar, under your recent history and popular fields.
The basic operators are AND, OR and NOT. They allow you to say whether words must be returned, whether they are optional, or not wanted at all.
OR: We would usually insert OR between terms used to provide a variant or set of options in your search. It retrieves patents containing either or both of the keywords or criteria.
AND: AND serves as a bridge between more than one term that you want to categorically appear with each other. It retrieves patents containing both keywords or criteria. Either keyword or criteria may appear first.
NOT: This operator works like the word NOT does in day to day life. If you want to look for some terms, but NOT others, you can list the others after the operator NOT. It retrieves patents containing the first keyword but not containing the second keyword.
Parentheses are the underlying operator within a query. They can change the overall meaning of a search, just by moving their placement. And just as in algebra, they will change the order in which the system looks at your query. Parentheses allow our search engine to ascertain either what it needs to consider first; or how you would want it to look for a specific group of terms, and what their relationship is with each other. This is known as order of operations.
Sometimes the difference between a highly efficient search query and an inefficient one can be the use of parentheses. It is recommended that when you use these, to have a think about how you'd like our search engine to treat the relationship between the terms that you enter.
Quotation marks allow you to specify that certain words or text should appear exactly as defined. This will often be appropriate when you have technology terms that are made of two or more words. For example, the material “carbon fibre” is two words, and therefore, needs to be located in patents as stated. You don’t want patents that have “carbon” in one place and “fibre” in another, only those documents where the two words are found together. If quotation marks are not used, our search engine will automatically insert the AND operator between words in a specific term i.e., (carbon fibre) = (carbon AND fibre).
Let's take a look at some examples that use the logic operators, parentheses, and quotation marks.
Note that these searches are made up of 5 different variables. Four of them are single keywords (keyword1, keyword2, keyword3, and keyword4). And a string made of two words surrounded by quotation marks ("keyword five").
If you want to search for a group of 4 individual keywords that you would absolutely require to appear with each other in the same body of text and use that group as an alternative for an exact string, you would use a search query of the following kind:
(keyword1 AND keyword2 AND keyword3 AND keyword4) OR "keyword five"
If you want to look for keywords 1 and 2 in conjunction with each other in one case, or keywords 3 and 4 in conjunction with the exact string in another, you would use a search query of the following kind:
(keyword1 AND keyword2) OR (keyword3 AND keyword4 AND "keyword five")
Other Elements of Boolean Searching
Search fields are used prominently in Advanced, Simple, and Legal Search. They help our search algorithm know where to search for keyboards assigned to them. All you need to do is to enter a Field, always followed by a colon (i.e., AN:) and a Keyword (i.e., AN:Nintendo). If you wish to assign more than one keyword and to include operators within a single field, all you need to do is to place all the elements within a set of parentheses (i.e., PATENT_TYPE:(A OR B)).
These are some of the most popular Fields:
TACD: looks at any key words within the Title, Abstract, Claims, or Description of our patent database.
Example: TAC:(car AND battery)
AN: looks at the original assignee of a patent.
AUTHORITY: looks at the authority in which a patent was applied for or issued.
Example: AUTHORITY:(US OR EP OR CN)
Wildcards allow you to use a root word to cover a variety of different suffixes or combinations of characters. For example, writing TTL:(electr*) will ensure that every publication that has a variation of the root word electr (electrical, electricity, electronic, etc.) as part of their title, will be returned.
Keep in mind that PatSnap only supports the use of wildcards when they are located at the end, or the middle of a word except for * which can be used at the beginning or at the end, and they are meant to be used when stemming is turned off.
The wildcards supported by our search engine are the following:
* (Asterisk): This wildcard can be used to replace a string of characters at the beginning, at the end or in the middle of a word. It can be used in all text and number fields.
Search will return all the possible different words that start with the root word electr (electric, electronic, electrical, etc.)
? (Question Mark): This wildcard can be used to replace an individual character at the beginning, at the end or in the middle of a word. It can be used multiple times, and it can be used in all text and number fields.
Search will return results that contain any of the two different spellings, organizer or organiser.
# (Wildcard): This wildcard can be used to replace an individual or zero characters at the beginning, at the end or in the middle of a word. It can be used in all text and number fields.
Search will return that contain any of the two different spellings, color or colour
These operators allow you to specify where you want words to appear in relation to each other. This might be, for example, when you have two words like "protein" and "analysis". You want to allow variations like "analysis of the protein", or "protein analysis" or "analysis conducted on this protein". In these 3 situations, a proximity of 3 would suffice, therefore a query of protein $W3 analysis would work well.
The position connectors supported by our search engine are the following:
$Wn: Search words will be within n words of each other, in any order.
TTL:(data $W4 process) would return documents with a title similar to "Process for duplicating data contained on a master sheet" - In which the proximity is considered, but the order in which the words appear is not relevant.
$PREn: Search words will be within n words of each other, in the order specified.
TTL:(data $PRE4 line) would return documents with a title similar to "Data processing apparatus for line justification in type composing machines" - In which data must appear first, and within a proximity of 4 words to line.
$WS: Search words will appear within 99 words of each other.
TTL:(display $WS HDMI) Can return documents with a title similar to "Onscreen remote control presented by audio video display device such as TV to control source of HDMI content" or "Displaying HDMI Content at an Arbitrary Location".
Both results are relevant, as long as the words are within a proximity of 99 words. The order in which they appear is not relevant.
$SEN: Search words will appear within the same sentence as each other.
$PARA: Search words will appear within the same paragraph as each other.
Now that we've gone through the basics of our search Boolean, let's look at an example that puts everything together:
(TACD:( ("high efficiency” OR "high $w4 efficiency” OR ultraefficient OR “ultra efficient” ) AND (photovoltaic OR solar) AND cell ) AND AUTHORITY:( US OR JP OR EP OR WO ) AND PBD_Y:[2010 to *]) NOT ( ALL_AN:Nokia )
- We’re looking for the keywords/strings "high efficiency", ultraefficient, "ultra efficient", or any instance of the words high and efficiency appearing within 4 words of each other AND the variants photovoltaic OR solar. The term cell must also appear within the Title, Abstract, Claims, or Description of a patent . We’re looking for high-efficiency solar cells , and we’re using multiple variants of these words, and gathering each variant group together within a pair of parentheses.
- These patents must have been applied for or issued in the authorities US , Japan , the EPO or the WIPO . This means that any patent from outside of these 4 authorities won’t show up in the results.
- We want to consider only those documents that have been published after the year 2010.
- However, we wish to NOT include any patents applied for, or owned by the Assignee Nokia . This would include them being the original assignee, standardized assignee, current assignee or current standardized assignee.
PatSnap's Top Search Tips
Sometimes we have little nuggets of advice that can help when you're constructing a search. We asked the PatSnap Client Growth Department to come up with their best gems of advice for when you're performing a new search:
- Avoid using generic words such as “improve, accelerate, benefit” when possible.
- Try to start with a broad search, then narrow down. Think of it like casting a wide net, then tightening that net once you know you've caught the right fish.
- Use the “Search Helper” to build a query to ensure you are effectively using any logic, proximity and wildcard syntax effectively.
- When building a query, think back to your algebra classes in school, and use brackets to separate groups of functions. For example – IPC:(B60C) AND "steel cord" AND (motorcycle OR motorbike OR "motor bike" OR "two-wheeled vehicle")
- Surround phrases with quotation marks. For example – “hydrogen peroxide”
- If you want to look for specific keywords that are integral to the technology you’re looking for, limit them to the claims section. Claims are the part of a patent where only the most pertinent information is included.
- Using capital letters doesn’t affect searches, so there’s no need to include them in searches.
- If you are only interested at looking for patents within certain jurisdictions/countries, then you can refine these by using the tick boxes on the left.
- If you are struggling to put a complex search together, try using the Edit search to build it out piece by piece!
- When trying to find similar patents, use the "Similar Patents" and citation feature as a starting point.
- You can then build a search around relevant patents you find and use the Landscape to map these out. Once you have done this, keeping the search fairly broad, you can search for the patent(s) you built the search around on the landscape to quickly identify the hill that is most pertinent to you.
- Always think about how you want your keywords to be related to one another. For instance, the use of AND can sometimes be too broad, why not try $WS to provide your search with a scope that captures a wide net but ensures your keywords are still close to each other.
- Refine your search using the settings button, to ensure you are only seeing ONE family member, instead of the entire list of continuation patents.
- Don’t complicate your initial search query by adding too many keywords; it's easy to use additional keywords to refine at a later point if you need to.
- To avoid large search results, think about what is unique about your idea and how it is different from others out there, and make that the focus of your search.
Other Things to Consider
The Scope of a Patent Search
Deciding how broad to make a search can depend on many factors. Think of it like trying to catch a particular kind of fish: cast your net wide and you’ll be likely to catch the kind of fish you want, but also many that you don’t want. On the other hand, cast your net small and you’ll have less fish to sort through, but you might miss out on some that you want.
This is where searching moves out of the realm of logic and moves more toward intuition. Let’s focus on language first. It’s advisable to include as many variations of a technology name as possible, but not to make it too general. For example:
CLMS:(“prosthetic hip” OR “hip replacement” OR “titanium hip”)
This is a query that will look for the various terms for a prosthetic hip, without generalizing the technology. It also requires that the results will have the key term in them as we’ve asked for it, rather than those words individually. Looking aside from language, this query also requires that the key terms come from the claims of the patent, which means that the patent will have to mention the key term as an intrinsic part of the document, and not in passing as it might in the description.
An example of a search that might be too broad could be:
prosthetic joint hip titanium
This search would return any patent that has all the mentioned words, but it does not allow for alternatives for key terms, and it does not specify that the terms have to come from any particular section of the document. (Quick Tip: Allowing key words to come from the description of the patent could lead to patents being returned that do not have anything expressly to do with those terms).
There are many different factors that could widen or close the net/search. You might specify the position of certain words using proximity. You could allow variants of words to come back using wildcards or fuzzy logic. It’s important to remember that there is not necessarily a good or bad level of breadth to a search. It is something that can be learned via trial and error for each search on an individual basis. The quality of your searches is likely to improve as you get more used to both searching, and the terminology used in the technology area.
Patent Terminology & Classifications
PatSnap is a global platform and as such, we cover patents which vary in the language used within them. When searching, you might want to account for variances in spellings or terminology. If you make shoes, remember British people call them “trainers” whilst in the US they are called “sneakers”. UK spells “sulphur” whilst US spells it as “sulfur”.
Another note is that it’s wise to avoid generic language. If you’re looking for a semiconductor manufacturing process, then using the word “process” will not specify your search particularly accurately, as you would expect that word to be returned in a lot of patents (Just to put this in context, PatSnap has roughly 26 million patents with the word “process” in them”). Likewise, remember that one item can often be described by many words. If you are looking for patents about cardboard boxes, you might also want to consider looking for paperboard containers, or corrugated paper formed into a cubic form for use in storage. There’s always another way to describe something.
The Anatomy of a Patent
There are many sections in a patent document, which are used for different things. Titles give a very brief meaning to the document, abstracts give a paragraph long description of the overall purpose and intent of the invention described.
Titles, Abstracts and Claims - Often seen as the most important part of the patent, you have the claims. (Judge Giles Rich said “the name of the game is the claim”). The claims describe exactly what the patent is protecting, and defines the limit of what the patent owner has a right to exclude others from doing. The description is a full explanation of the invention. It will often include background information on the invention, how it is made, and its intended uses. However, this area doesn’t define what is protected and will often mention words not specific to this technology.
There’s a good reason PatSnap has a “Title, Abstract, Claims” (TAC) field in its search: They are often the most important parts to search from, and don’t include the description. Let’s say I am protecting my new vacuum cleaner. My title will likely refer to some kind of suction cleaner, my abstract will describe the invention concisely, my claims will be carefully worded to protect exactly what I need, but then there’s the description. I might mention “this vacuum cleaner will work well on carpet, linoleum, tile and wooden flooring”. I have just mentioned 3 words that are not specific to this space at all, and anyone doing a search on wood, carpet or linoleum is going to find my patent, which is not actually about those topics.
Classifications - These are perhaps one of the most useful aspects of conducting a patent search. If you’re not familiar, a patent classification is like a library code. If you were to walk into a library today and ask a librarian to show you the section for, let’s say, the horror genre, the librarian would give you a fairly simple code, which would take you to a fairly large portion of that library. Yet if you were to be more specific with a request and ask that librarian to take you to the section that’s concerned with robotic werewolves in Latvia, the librarian would give you a much more specific, and likely longer code which takes you to a small section.
Classifications can be important to patent searches because they do not have the same flaws as keywords. It doesn’t matter if I describe my skateboard patent as a “skateboard”, or a “flat panel of wood with multiple attached wheels meant for recreational travel”. That patent will still have the IPC (international patent classification) of A63C17/01. Patent writers will often use tricky and odd language to avoid you finding their document, but they cannot avoid an examiners decision to put it in a certain classification.
The question is, how do you know which classification to use? Well there are lots of ways to find out. To find my skateboard example, all I did was do a quick search of skateboard and look at the top classifications coming back. If you want to do a search on washing machine filters, do a quick search on “washing machine” and look at the top IPCs. You’ll likely find the top IPC to be on the money, so to speak, and then when you do your next search you don’t have to worry about whether to call it a washing machine, or a clothes washer, or a garment cleaning device. You can just use that IPC and move on to specifying the filter part of the query.
Assignees - This field is most commonly used when researching the current and past activity of one company. You might know them as a competitor, a supplier, or a customer. Understanding how their IP portfolio looks in terms of their direction, strength in one technology space or another, and in comparison to another, can be very important.
You might also research into an organization just for your own knowledge in similar searches. If you know a company is strong in an area you are interested in, then take a look at aspects such as the most common classifications that occur within their portfolio, and you’ll then have a head-start when constructing a query into that area.
Date - Innovation by its definition is concerned with the new. So, it stands to reason that you might often want to limit your search to patents between certain years. For example, one common refinement that people will often make is to limit patents to the last 20 years to omit as many expired patents as possible. You might restrict the most recent date in an analysis to rid yourself of the fact that there is almost always a drop in activity in the last 2 years because of the publication lag. You might know that the innovation you are researching is a development only seen in the last 5 years. These are some of the many reasons why you might limit your search.
A Final Word
There is no single correct way to conduct a patent search - combining many approaches and techniques is always advised. When you are doing this work, it is important to be creative and to not fall into too much of a routine as every search is unique.
Whilst this article has covered many of the options in conducting a standard search, it is important to remember that there are other ways of searching too. PatSnap has capabilities like Image Search, Chemical Search, Semantic Search and 3D Landscaping, all of which are advantageous in the right situation. Using these tools in combination with a standard field search will yield a vast array of approaches for you to use.
PatSnap is constantly updating and releasing new features for searching and analysis. This means you will frequently have opportunities to update your searching method and workflow accordingly.
We hope this article has been useful, and we would welcome any feedback, tips or tricks of your own. Contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org