Evaluating Patent Documents in a Patent Search

Patent documents are one of the most important pieces of information in a patent search. There are millions of patent documents that have been published over the decades. A simple search strategy may yield a set with hundreds or thousands of patent documents. It may not be possible for the searcher to analyze each and every one of those documents.

Generally, patent documents have predictable formats and all contain virtually the same information: bibliographic information (title, abstract, inventor(s), assignee(s), filing date, priority date, priority document information, citations, etc.), a specification including a detailed description of the invention, claims, and drawings if applicable. Patent formats vary from one patenting authority to another, but they all are arranged to show the same basic information.

When determining the relevancy of a patent document during a search, a patent searcher will essentially do two things: screen the appropriate parts of the patent for information needed to determine its relevancy to the search, and determine which discrete subject features that the invention in hand and the document being reviewed have in common.

The searcher would initially focus on four sections of a patent document to determine relevancy: title, abstract, claims, and drawings. These are explained in more detail with the help of points below:

  • Patent titles sometimes provide reliable clues for determining the relevancy of a patent, but these vary from the very descriptive to intentionally vague. However, patent titles are relatively short and can be searched quickly for identifying potentially relevant documents.
  • Abstracts provide summaries of claimed inventions and point to the novel embodiments of the patent document. Thus abstract can be used to get an overall sense of the invention. As with titles, abstracts are relatively easy to read and can help identify potentially relevant documents.
  • By reading the claims, the searcher may determine the scope of the patent; however, claims language is often descriptive. The searcher should be able to understand the legalese of various terms used in a patent claims.
  • Drawings also provide a good tool to visually analyze the patent document and is especially useful for comparing structural invention disclosures.

After reading one or more of these sections, of the searcher is convinced that the patent document may be relevant, then he/she can delve deep and study the description to full compare the patent document with the invention disclosure, to conclude the relevancy of the document.

All said, such approach is exemplary only and may vary with each searcher. It may be found that usually a searcher would spend few seconds for few patents, and in other cases minutes or even hours on a single patent document. Such strategies are usually developed over a period of time with experience.

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