The following is a Seven Step Strategy for conducting preliminary searches of U.S. patents and published applications using free online resources of the USPTO and the EPO (European Patent Office). Patent and Trademark Centers (PTRCs) are available nationwide to provide training on this Seven Step Strategy.
PTRCs provide online access to the PatFT (Patents Full-Text) and AppFT (Applications Full-Text) databases on the USPTO website and the Espacenet Worldwide Database on the EPO website. In addition, most PTRCs provide access to additional USPTO patent databases available through PubWEST (Public version of the Web-based Examiners Search Tool) and PubEAST (Public version of the Examiners Assisted Search Tool). Always call your nearest PTRC to make an appointment before visiting to make the best use of your time.
The use of patent classification in searching U.S. patents and published applications usually results in a more comprehensive search than one solely done by keyword (text) searching. Since keyword searches are challenging with the often technical and legal language of patents, they serve best to supplement a patent classification search. Patent classification searching is the focus of the Seven Step Strategy.
The USPTO is currently transitioning from the over 100 year old U.S. Patent Classification system to a new classification system jointly developed with the European Patent Office called Cooperative Patent Classification. Beginning in 2015, the USPTO will only use Cooperative Patent Classification for classifying utility patent documents, but will continue to use U.S. Patent Classification for design and plant patents. The current version of the Seven Step Strategy reflects this transition between patent classification systems.
The Seven Steps in a Preliminary Search of U.S. Patents and Published Patent Applications
1. Brainstorm terms to describe the invention.
2. Use these terms to find initial USPC class/subclass in the Index to the U.S. Patent Classification (USPC).
3. Verify the relevancy of USPC class/subclasses using the U.S. Patent Classification Schedules.
4. Confirm scope of subclass using U.S. Patent Classification Definitions (hyperlinked from the U.S. Patent Classification Schedules).
5. Retrieve and review complete U.S. patent documents and published applications by USPC classification in the PatFT (Patents Full-Text) and AppFT (Applications Full-Text) databases.
6. Using the USPC classification(s) you previously identified, find relevant Cooperative Patent Classifications (CPCs) using Statistical Mapping from USPC to CPC ; retrieve and review U.S. patent documents and published applications with these CPC classifications in the PatFT and AppFT databases.
7. Conduct a Classification Search of CPC Class Schemes on the EPO's Espacenet website to expand your CPC searching to additional relevant CPC classifications. You can then use these additional CPC classifications to find additional relevant patent documents and published applications on the PatFT and AppFT databases on the USPTO website.
Seven Step Strategy Tutorial and Handout
The Patent and Trademark Resource Center Program also provides a CBT (computer based training) tutorial with a detailed review of the Seven Step Strategy. The current CBT covers searching using U.S. Patent Classification.
A detailed handout of the Seven Step Strategy with examples and screen shots.