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Do-It-Yourself Patent Search

Using the search strategy that you came-up with using the Keywords Worksheet, you'll want to adapt it to be a properly formatted search string at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's patent search website."

Step 1: Search Strategy

Be sure any words in your search strategy that could occur in the plural form include a "wildcard" character at the end. So, using our product as an example, you would convert this search strategy...

(bracket or clip or holder or support) and (cd or disk or disc or dvd) and (wall or door or vertical surface) and (case or box or jewel case)

...into this (see the red text where the strategy was modified)

ttl/((bracket$ or clip or clips or holder$ or support$)) and abst/((cd or cds or disk or disks or disc or discs or dvd or dvds) and (wall or walls or door or doors or (vertical and surface$)) and (case or cases or box or boxes or jewel))

Why did we make these changes? For the PTO's website...

  1. We added "ttl/(" and ")" around the key noun and its synonyms. We'd expect these words to be in the title of the patent.
  2. We added "abst/(" and ")" around the rest of the concepts and their synonyms. We'd expect some combination of these words to be in the abstract of the patent, which is a short 150 word summary of the patent.
  3. Any five or more letter word that could be a plural or otherwise have an alternate ending and still be relevant will need a $ (wildcard) sign added to it. For example, "holder" could also be "holders," "support" could also be "supports" (as in a bracket that supports a CD case), or "supporting" (a bracketsupporting a CD case on a wall...)
  4. Any phrase needs to be put into brackets and the "and" keyword operated added between them. For example, "vertical surface" becomes "(vertical and surface$)" to cover "vertical surface" and "vertical surfaces"). Note that the "and" keyword modifier is very broad in this case, and the two words "vertical" and "surface" won't have to be right next to each other. But still, it'll work.

Remember, we're just looking for "out in the open" patents, so you'll see a bunch of patents that aren't relevant, and a few that may be.


Step 2: Run the Search at the US PTO's Website

Go to the and click on "Search" under "Patents" in the left navigation bar. You'll want to conduct a search in both the Issued Patents database and the Published Applications database (you'll conduct the same search twice).

In the Issued Patents database, select all years, and then type your search strategy in the Query field. There's a help button there, too, in case you want to explore how to do a more thorough search.

Step 3: Review Patents and Patent Applications

Look through the titles of the patents that show-up in your search. If there are any patents that look like they might be relevant, based on the title, click on the patent number or title. Then click on the "Images" button to see the actual patent and any drawing figures (you may have to load-in a .tif file viewer to see the images, which is easy to do... just follow the directions at

If there are too many titles to look through (over 100 or so), then you might remove some of the wildcards and synonyms from your strategy that are more borderline. If there are too few titles to look through (fewer than, say, 10), you might add wildcards or keyword synonyms.

If you run across a few patents that are dead-on hits, then there are almost certainly more relevant patents out there. But you might not need to find them... your search might be over. If you found an identical patent (like I did on my first invention in 1990!) then you can stop. But don't be discouraged! You are a creative person, as evidenced by the fact that you had this idea in the first place. If you find that your idea already has a patent on it, know that your idea was patentable! That's a great sign! It means you've got an inventive personality and you'll no-doubt come up with something else soon.

If you didn't find anything "out in the open," there still might be a relevant patent lurking under some rock somewhere. On the other hand, there may not be. So at this point you should conduct the next step, the Do-It-Yourself Market Search, and see if there is a product (that is not necessarily patented) that is being offered for sale that is similar to your idea.

If you still don't find anything, it's time to call-in the experts to really look under those rocks and conduct a professional patent search.

Do-It-Yourself Market Search:

Most people who offer a product for sale offer it on the Internet. Here's how to find those product...