How To Search For Existing Patents

Written by Barry Meskin on 31 January 2023

Are you hoping to patent a new invention and need help determining where to begin? One of the first things to check before pursuing a patent is to search for existing patents or other public disclosures for the same or similar invention. This is because your invention must be new and inventive in order to be patentable. If the same invention has already been publicly disclosed anywhere in the world, then it is no longer new. 

How do you do searching? Thankfully it's not as tricky as it may seem, there are several databases both Australian and overseas that you can check.

In this article, we’ll discuss why checking for existing patents is so important and how to properly check both local and foreign databases. 

Why Searching For Existing Patents Matters

While here in Australia we are quite fortunate to have a pretty straightforward approach to patents through IP Australia, there is still a requirement, like most other countries, that the invention must be new and inventive.  

Imagine spending hours, not only on developing an idea you believe to be wholly unique, but also spending time and money on filing a patent to protect your rights to the idea, only to have your application rejected due to an existing patent publication showing the same invention. 

This scenario is one you can entirely avoid so long as you take the time to do your research and check available patent databases and other technology disclosure platforms first. Claiming ignorance in these situations will not be considered a viable defence due to the available resources for searching out existing patents. 

Searching Patents

The Australian Patent Database, also known as AusPat allows you to search for existing patents and grants. You can look for an existing patent via several search methods including:

  • invention name
  • applicant name
  • inventor name
  • patent filing date
  • priority date 
  • WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) number/filing date or priority date
  • PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty) number/filing date or priority date

You can implement a search with AusPat via three different methods, a quick search, a structured search, or an advanced search. 

However the Australian Patent Database will only allow you to see technology that was disclosed in Australian patents. It would be preferable to expand your search to look for public disclosures that have been made anywhere in the world.  

Need Help Searching?

Searching can be a complex process, and professional searchers have knowledge of complex methodology including structuring complex Boolean search logic. We strongly recommended engaging a patent attorney. A patent attorney will know exactly where and how to most effectively perform a patent search for the most accurate outcomes. 

Searching Overseas Patents 

Unfortunately, there is no single worldwide patent database, the closest we have to this is PATENTSCOPE via the WIPO IP Portal, Espacenet - Advanced search or Google Patents.

Using these databases you can search over 108 million registered patent documents as well as access information regarding over 4.5 million PCT applications. 

Searching can be carried out by using combinations of keywords describing the invention. Alternatively, names of patent holders, or names of inventors can be searched. Patents applications are also classified into technology fields through IPC (International Patent Classification) technology classification fields.  Due to the sheer volume of information stored in these databases, the returned results may take you some time to wade through. 

Do I Have To Pay For Patent Searches? 

If you are performing your own patent searches on available databases, there is usually no charge for this. Neither WIPO, Espacenet, Google nor AusPat levies a charge for this.

Should you engage a patent attorney to perform these searches for you as part of a wider patent application process, you may be billed for the time spent by your attorney in performing these searches. 

The upside to this however is that your attorney knows exactly where to look and what they are looking for. This means a much quicker and less challenging experience. It also means you will get more commercially relevant results, usually accompanied by a proper search report which can be provided to investors and used in other applications like grants for government funds.

When To Perform A Patent Search

The short answer here is "As soon as possible". No matter how unique your invention may seem, the reality is the world is a very big place. There are  thousands of new patent requests being submitted every day all over the globe. 

Performing a patent search before publicly discussing your new invention or trying to market/sell it is the best way to provide some peace of mind that your invention is new. You should bear in mind that no search will be exhaustive, and every time that someone searches for your invention with different keywords, using different databases and different languages, there is a chance that additional relevant search results could be found.

Patent searches should be done early on in the inventing process, even before you work to develop your idea. Doing so can save you time and money on an idea that has no potential to be patented as it already exists. 

Do I Have To Perform An International Search?

Yes, because your invention is required to be new in the absolute sense - if a public disclosure of the same invention has been made anywhere else in the world (by any means - through patent publications, marketing brochures, websites, social media or even by public use) then it is no longer patentable.

Does My Australian Patent Protect Me Overseas? 

No, patents are territorial - an Australian patent only has effect in Australia. Just as there is no global database, there is no ‘worldwide’ patent that is enforceable in every country. If you believe your invention has potential overseas, you will need to pursue individual patents in each of those locations. 

Professional Help With Patents  

At IP Guardian, we have decades of experience managing patents. From performing proper patent searches to preparing applications and handling submissions, we can do it all. As highly qualified patent and trademark attorneys, we have the skill and expertise needed to make navigating patent law a breeze. 

Our cost-effective services are designed to make it easier for everyday Australians to seek support in protecting their valuable inventions - something we are passionate about. Whether you are already in the thick of pursuing a patent and need additional help or are seeking guidance on the entire process from start to finish, our team is here to help. 

To arrange your obligation-free consultation contact our office today on 02 9071 0130.

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