following guidance is intended only to show you how easy it is to start
First, we will summarise what you are going to do.
- You will
use your keywords to find at least
some relevant patents. This may produce enough prior art to end your search.
- 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 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
- From the
Quick Search ‘Select the datebase in which you wish to search' menu select "worldwide".
‘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:
it a relevant results list?
- If an
inspection of titles says it is not, go back to Quick Search and try a different
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
- 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.
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
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
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
- 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
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.
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
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
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
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
should get a much smaller number of more relevant patents.
necessary, keep repeating this procedure with different keywords added.
For example: we want to find all patents for 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.
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.
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*'.
general, the skill in searching is to narrow your search down as much as
possible without inadvertently excluding something that might be relevant.