Limitations of a Patent Search

Patent search helps to determine the relevance of an invention in light of the existing art. A patent search is pivotal for companies and researchers to define their IP strategies, identifying potential blocking patents before entering a market, determine state of the art, and locating potential infringers to exploit their portfolios to earn profits.

That said, patents are dynamic; everyday new patent applications are filed and published, new patents are granted, patents are abandoned, and often the patent law also changes.  Therefore, it is almost impossible to have a perfect patent search. The limitations which need to be considered before conducting a patent search are described herein.

The limitations of a patent search are broadly classified under two categories: those that are inherent in the data and those resulting from the search process.

  • Accessibility:

Patent search does not provide access to pending patent applications which have not yet been published. Only issued patents and not pending patent applications are available to the public. If your invention relates to an active technology domain, there is a chance that some of the patents you would like to search are yet not published and thus could not be found. Since, this publication of pending patent applications generally occurs approximately 18 months after the priority filing date of the application, most of the recently filed patents are not even accessible for searching. Therefore, patent searches are not completely reliable.

  • Search Approach:

In most of the patent search approaches, keywords based search is widely used. The keyword based search results give large result sets, which sometimes could make the search prone to missing on key documents. Moreover, such search techniques cannot be used for finding patent document which are more reliant on the included drawings to explain the invention.

  • Shortcomings of Search Tools:

The other reliability problem associated with searching is that the available search tools are not perfect. Each patent database has its own limitations, in the form of patent coverage, available number of fields, search algorithms, etc. On top, often there is missing data in the patent document itself. And then there is limitation of translating the non-English patent documents. Some databases provide machine translations, but such translations are far from perfect.


The point is that patent searching is not an exact science, and therefore it must be appreciated that absolutely exhaustive patent search is close to impossible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Don`t copy text!