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About Patents and Patent Searching


Why Search Patents?

  • 80% of patent information is never disclosed or published elsewhere.
  • Patents contain a wealth of specific technical detail, research data, and drawings.
  • 95% of Canadian patents and 40% of US patents granted to foreign nationals.
  • Patents and patent applications often published earlier than academic papers.
  • Canada has about 2.5 million and the USA over 5 Million granted patents representing 150 years of technology.

If you are an inventor, you should be aware of relevant prior art in your technology. If you are an entrepreneur, you should monitor your competitors' new products, and where they are patented. If you are involved in applied research, you need to review new and pending patents in your discipline.

Patents are the first place to look. Over 80% of the information contained in recent patent literature is not published elsewhere.

PATEX can help you:

  1. Prevent duplication of an existing patented device, process, or technique.
  2. Track the research and development effort of colleagues or competitors across the globe and check for infringement.
  3. Generate new ideas and directions for your own R & D team, and find solutions to research problems.
  4. Assess market trends by watching numbers of patents issued, purchased, or licensed in growth technologies.
  5. Locate experts, consultants, potential employees, customers, licensors, or potential merger/takeover candidates.
  6. Monitor patent validity challenges,expiries, examinations, reassignments, divisions, continuations and extensions.

How are Patents Searched?

PATEX searches can tailor information from the patent databases and from in-house resources to suit your needs and budget. Information provided varies from full-text US patents to abstracts and patent family detail of patents from the world's industrialized countries.

  • Patentability searches discover if an invention is revealed in prior art patents.
  • State-of-the-art searches are directed to the latest developments in a given technology.
  • Inventor/Assignee searches reveal who holds what patents in which countries.
  • Patent family searches find patents protecting the same invention across the world.
  • Citation searches indicate recent patents citing older patents as prior art.

Tell us your problem and we will search using the most appropriate of the many computer databases covering international patent and technical literature. If we think there is a better way of answering your question, we will tell you so.

The Patent Databases

PATEX uses the best available on-line patent databases, on such services as DIALOG, ORBIT, and STN. These include:

  • WORLD PATENT INDEX contains patent information from over 30 countries, totalling 12 million patent documents.
  • INPADOC allows comprehensive coverage of 55 national and international Patent Offices regarding patent families.
  • CLAIMS series of databases accesses 2.3 million U.S. patents since 1950.
  • JAPIO retrieves English abstracts of published unexamined Japanese patents (Kokai) from 1976.
  • Trademark search resources including Saegis, NUANS, and the TRADEMARKSCAN family of darabases facilitate searches of Canadian, U.S., British and European trademarks.
  • LitAlert, Legal Status, CLAIMS REASSIGNMENT & REEXAMINATION and CLAIMS/CITATION reveal patent status, validity, legal actions, and citing patents.

PATEX can also access over 20 other subject databases containing patent literature, such as NTIS and Chemical Abstracts. In-house resources include patent data on CD-ROM from APS MicroPatent, the European Patent Office, and U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.

Overview of Patent Classification Systems

Attempts to prevent drowning in the flood of patent literature by designing a classification system started over 100 years ago. The growth of the files of patent specifications led the patent offices to develop classifications of their own, as library classifications were not considered suitable.

The primary purpose of classification systems is to facilitate the searching and retrieving of patent documents by patent offices and other users. Various classification systems exist, and most have been designed so that each technical aspects of an invention to which a patent document relates can be classified as a whole. A patent document may contain several technical aspects of an invention, and therefore be allocated several classification symbols.

Classification systems are hierarchical in nature, with main headings covering a general area of technology, such as "optics", and each sub-heading a given type of invention such as "stereo-viewers" (or "3D"). Each sub-heading has a specific number which is assigned to all the patent documents relevant to that category.

Clearly, effective classification of patent documents is essential for searching the growing number of patent documents (>1.4 million in Canada, >5 million in the U.S.). The major patent classification systems are briefly defined below:

  1. International Patent Classification (IPC)
    • Published and managed by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), one of 16 specialised agencies of the United Nations.
    • As its name suggests, it is a single international system used by Canada since 1978, by the European Patent Office (EPO) and some 80 other countries including the US; the U.S. assigns IPC codes to their patents as a secondary code but use their own classification system as their primary search and retrieval tool.
    • IPC is a combined function (or intrinsic nature) / application classification system in which the function theoretically takes precedence. In the IPC, an invention is classified according to its "function" (how it operates), except when its application alone determines its technical characteristics. In actual use, the IPC operates as a highly application-oriented system because of the multiplicity of application-type places in the schedules. For example, subclass F16K is a product-oriented subclass concerning valves while subclass A61F specifically provides for heart valves.
    • Current version (6th) divides technology into 8 main sections, 118 classes, 624 subclasses and over 67,000 subgroups.
    • Versions are revised and, if required, amended every 5 years by an international committee of experts. The current version has been in force since January 1, 1995, and will be up for revision in the year 2000. Patent offices use the current version for assigning IPC codes and do not re-index their documents when a new revised edition is published (Japan is the main exception).
    • A consolidated version including all 6 editions is available for a fee on CD-ROM and in many languages such as English, French, German and Spanish.
  2. Canadian Patent Classification (CPC)
    • Based initially on the United States Patent Classification and developed by the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), this classification system slightly differs from the IPC in terms of its function orientation both in theory and in use.
    • The technology is separated into 3 main "art" categories - i.e. the chemical, electrical and mechanical arts, and the three groups form some 340 classification schedules and 37,000 subclasses.
    • Before 1978, only the CPC appeared on Canadian patent documents. Between 1978 and October 1989, both CPC and IPC were printed on the documents. After October 1989, IPC appears exclusively.
  3. United States Patent Classification (USPC)
    • A national classification system managed by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. It is of international significance given the importance of the U.S. patent system, and shares many similarities with the CPC. It is undoubtedly the best system to search U.S. patents.
    • The system comprises 3 main categories - i.e. chemicals, electricals and mechanicals, and the three groups form about 400 classes which are themselves subdivided into more than 125,000 individual subclasses.
    • The USPC is updated several times every year, and all individual patent document classifications correspond to the most recent revision.
    • The USPC can be consulted free of charge on the Internet.
  4. Other classification systems
    • Some patent database operators have produced classifications of their own. Derwent Inc., the producer of the WPI(L) and other specialty databases, has developed a series of "Derwent Classes" according to subject areas. Patent document abstracts are assigned such classes, regardless of the patent document's original IPC, US and other classification.
    • The Chemical Abstracts Service ("CAS"), with its many databases, also has its chemistry-specific classification system. Every publication - patent document or scientific literature - is assigned to a CAS section.

Information about Patents

Glossaries of Patenting Terms



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Last Updated: March 4, 2010