Patent searches can range from simple searches in a single country to complex searches that span multiple countries. There are also different types of patent searches.

This article will focus on how to do a simple prior art patent search of the U.S. Patent Office (USPTO) database for a mechanical invention such as a consumer product. There are a lot of search databases and techniques one can use. Here, I am laying out what I think are the easiest, most productive techniques for an inventor to use.

My technique for doing a basic USPTO patent search is broken down into three main steps:

1. Learn the terminology and get an idea of the "landscape" - if you aren't well-versed in the industry or technical terminology for your invention, this is a good step to start with.

2. Start the initial search

3. Refine the search

Learn the terminology and get an idea of the "landscape" of your invention

a. Start with Google (the regular search engine). What you are going to be looking for is the industry standard terminology for your invention and its various parts or features.

b. Type in what your invention generally is and see what comes up. Now visit some of the results and note the terminology used to describe features of your type of invention.

c. Also, browse your type of invention on other sites such as Amazon and note the terminology used there.

d. Finally, visit manufacturer sites for this type of product and note the terminology.

Now that you have the terminology used for your invention, you can start the search.

Start your initial patent search

Google has a complete copy of the public database of the USPTO. You can do a free patent search on the USPTO system, but I think that the Google interface is much easier for a beginner to use, so I would recommend starting with the Google patent search tool. Using the terminology you obtained in step 1, proceed to the Google patent search engine at:

Now start your search by entering terms or phrases that describe your invention.

The search results are returned in relevance order, unless you specify otherwise.

Look through the results and find the several that are most similar.

Refine the initial patent search

There are several ways you can refine your search:

1) Look for other references similar to the ones you found. You can do this in google by clicking on the "Similar Documents" link

2) Search by inventor - find the inventors on the closest references and see what else they invented - it may be similar

3) Look at the "Cited by" references link and review those references.

As I mentioned, this is an easy-to-use technique for conducting a basic free patent search.

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