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Simple Espacenet searching

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The following guidance is intended only to show you how easy it is to start searching.

First, we will summarise what you are going to do.

  1. You will use your keywords to find at least some relevant patents. This may produce enough prior art to end your search.
  2. If it does not, you will use some of these relevant patents to find the relevant subject classification for your idea. This can give better results than keywords alone.

Using keywords

Using your list of keywords, prepare search strings of up to four keywords. (Use Espacenet's wildcard feature to find plurals and other variants. For example: to find ventilator(s), ventilate(s), ventilated, ventilating and ventilation all at the same time, just key in ventilat*.) Then:

Your first results list

  • Go to Espacenet and click on Quick Search.
  • From the Quick Search ‘Select the datebase in which you wish to search' menu select "worldwide".
  • At ‘Select what to search' click on "words".
  • Key your search string into ‘Enter search terms'.
  • Click "search" and in a few seconds you will see:
  • A results list.

Espacenet screenshot update (JPG)

Is it a relevant results list?

  • If an inspection of titles says it is not, go back to Quick Search and try a different search string.

Working with bibliographic screens

  • On the results list, click on a title that looks relevant. This opens up a bibliographic screen that should include an abstract and usually a sample drawing. One or both may be all you need to decide whether that patent is relevant.
  • If it is not relevant, go back to your results list and try another patent.
  • If you want to know more than you can learn from the bibliographic screen, you may want to examine the full patent.

Examining individual patents

If you wish, you can download the whole patent. It may however be quicker to try one or more of these steps to find key items of information:

  • Click the ‘Mosaics' link on the bibliographic screen. This gives you a preview of all drawings, which may show more than the single example on the bibliographic page.
  • Click the ‘Original document' link.
  • From the drop-down menu select ‘Search report' or ‘SR' if there is one; or look for a ‘Search report' or ‘References cited' list on the front or back pages of the patent itself. Search reports list other patents that official examiners have regarded as relevant. Among these you may find a crucial patent that you might otherwise have missed.
  • From the ‘Original document' drop-down menu select ‘Claims'. Claims can sometimes be difficult to interpret but they determine the commercial strength of a patent and so are extremely important. Do any of them sound like the claims you might want to make for your own invention? If so, the patent may be prior art as you will not be able to claim what has already been disclosed by someone else.

Claims applied for versus claims granted
It is worth pointing out here that most documents in patent databases will be applications only and not granted patents. Although the claims in applications count as disclosure, they are often modified later and so may be no guide to (a) the claims - if any - eventually granted, and (b) the extent to which your idea might infringe someone else's patent.

After you have repeated this procedure a few times you may have found enough prior art to stop searching. If not, try shifting the basis of your search from keywords to EC classifications or ECLAs.

Using ECLAs

Go back to the Bibliographic screen of the most relevant patent you have found and click its ‘Classification: European' number, or ECLA. If there is no ECLA for that patent, try another relevant patent.

  • For each ECLA - there may be more than one - follow this routine.

Finding your first classification

  • After clicking on the ECLA a screen appears highlighting that classification. Does it or any of its near neighbours sound relevant to your idea?
  • If it does, check the box alongside the classification. Its number should automatically appear in the ‘Copy to search form' field. Click Copy.
  • The Advanced Search page will appear with the ‘European Classification (ECLA)' field filled in. Click Search.
  • You now get a list of all patents in that classification.

Examining your results list

  • Check through the patents, exactly as you did with your keywords results list. This time you may find a higher proportion relevant to your idea. If not, you may need to look for other ECLAs.

Finding other relevant classifications

  • There may well be more than one relevant classification for your idea, so repeat all steps from Using ECLAs with other relevant patents from your keywords search lists. If the same ECLAs keep appearing, there is a good (but not guaranteed) chance that you are not missing any other important classifications.

Refining your search

Have you ended up with very long ECLA lists? Try combining keywords with ECLA terms to reduce numbers.

  • Go to the Advanced Search screen.
  • Key in the ECLA that gave you a large results list.
  • In one of the "Keyword(s) in..." fields add one or more of your keywords and click Search.
  • You should get a much smaller number of more relevant patents.
  • If necessary, keep repeating this procedure with different keywords added.

For example: we want to find all patents for mousetraps.

  • Mousetraps are in ECLA A01M23 ‘Traps for animals', which on the date of our search held over 4 840 patents - too many to search easily.
  • Searching again for "a01m23" in the ‘ECLA' field and "mouse" in the "Keyword(s) in title or abstract" field brought the number down to a much more manageable and relevant 395 patents.
  • If we did not find prior art within those 395, we might try again with, for example, ECLA A01M23 and keywords rodent*, or rat*, or bird*, or ‘small mammal*'.

In general, the skill in searching is to narrow your search down as much as possible without inadvertently excluding something that might be relevant.

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