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 for the same or similar invention. 

How do you do this? 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

Talk to anyone who has successfully registered a patent and they’ll likely tell you it was a long, complicated, and at times expensive exercise. 

While here in Australia we are quite fortunate to have a pretty straightforward approach to patents through IP Australia, you can still easily get caught up in the details. This is especially true if you don’t take the time to perform the proper checks before submitting your application. 

Imagine spending hours, not only on developing an idea you believe to be wholly unique but on paperwork to cement your rights to the idea, only to have your application rejected due to an existing patent. 

This scenario is one you can entirely avoid so long as you take the time to do your research and check available patent databases first. This can also ensure you do not accidentally infringe on the Intellectual Property rights of the existing patent owner. 

Claiming ignorance in these situations will not be considered a viable defence due to the available resources for searching out existing patents. 

Searching Australia 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. 

Quick Search

This option is ideal for those who already have a specific application number or invention name by which to search for an existing patent. If you do not have this information to hand, which will be the case when you are searching for an unknown patent, you’ll need to pursue another method such as a structured search. 

Structured Search 

In a structured search, you can combine several fields from across the database in a single search. This can make it easier to narrow down results and find if there are any existing patents the same as the one you wish to apply for. 

Advanced Search

Generally advised for use by those who are experienced in performing complex patent searches, this type of search allows for free text input. This allows for a more specific search or better results in a challenging query. 

Need Help Searching?

IP Australia offers support with patent searches as needed, for more complex searches or more difficult queries, they 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.

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

The search fields and terms permitted are similar to those found in an Australian patent search, however, due to the sheer volume of information stored in this database, the returned results may take you some time to wade through. 

If you are hoping to secure a patent in a specific location such as the UK or US, we suggest performing separate searches on the recognised patent databases for that country. 

Dealing with international patent offices can be much more complicated, expensive, and time-consuming. To avoid unnecessary difficulties or possible legal issues, engaging an experienced patent attorney is highly recommended. 

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 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

No matter how unique your invention may seem, the reality is the world is a very big place. There are hundreds of 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 avoid legal action by someone who already holds a patent for what you believed to be a new idea. 

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?

No, if you’re simply trying to secure a patent in Australia there is no urgent requirement to also search international databases. It can be a good practice however as it can help you better understand what inventions are already patented overseas and the potential for your idea to have success in other markets in the future. It is also recommended as your invention must be universally novel, meaning even patents filed overseas will impact your patent application in Australia.

This can also save you from facing difficulties from existing patent holders who feel you are infringing on their ideas. Even if an overseas party does not hold a current patent in Australia, they can make life difficult should they choose to pursue legal action and file their application here. 

Does My Australian Patent Protect Me Overseas? 

No, just as there is no global database, there is no ‘worldwide’ patent. If you believe your invention has potential overseas, you will need to pursue individual patents in each of those locations. 

As previously mentioned, this will also mean performing an international patent search and a myriad of paperwork. 

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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