How Are Patents Researched?

How to research patents begins with researching the database at the United States Patent and Trademark Office to determine if an invention you want to patent has already been patented.  

You'll also search for similar inventions in case there's a need to readjust your invention so there's no chance of infringement of another's idea. 

Steps for Researching Patents

Using the resources available at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which is part of the Department of Commerce, provides general information about patents and trademarks, filing options, forms, and fees. 

  1. Based on your invention, you will need to identify what type of patent is applicable. The United States Patent and Trademark Office uses three categories; Utility, Design, and Plant.
  2. Access the search page at the patent office to start a preliminary search. Make a list of keywords that best describe your invention. Be creative and list different combinations of words. 
  3. To improve the quality of your search, use the Advanced Search Page whenever possible. 
  4. Use the keywords to filter through the index for class and subclass.
  5.  Follow the directions to verify whether the class and subclass are relevant using the Classification Schedule at the U.S. Patent website.
  6. Along with checking the class and subclass, you will also want to check the Class Definition.
  7. Once you've determined a relevant class/subclass, search the patent office database for published patent applications database. 
  8. Once you've accessed information from the database for patent applications and completed patents, consider if the patents are relevant to your invention. 
  9. Select the documents that are most relevant and look for any information citing other documents. The goal is to find out if there are any other inventions in the patent process similar to your invention.


  • By doing a thorough initial search of patents saves time and money in the event the idea or similar idea already has a patent.
  • If an inventor is granted a patent by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, it is in effect for up to 20 years. 


  • While there are other options available such as free websites and search engines for finding patent information, they may not be as in-depth as the official United States Patent and Trademark Office website.
  • You may also find alternate search options may have limitations when it comes to searching specific terms. 
  • Although when you apply for and receive a patent and become the owner of the legal document, there are instances where individuals will attempt to take credit for the invention and profit from it. Having a patent will allow you to take legal action against anyone who attempts to use your invention illegally. 


Q. Do I need an attorney to file a patent?

A. To ensure your application and any other paperwork is properly prepared, it is recommended that you use the services of a patent attorney

Q. Are there any other information sites where I can find out about pending or published patent applications?

A. Yes. There are several sites that provide information, illustrations, and copies of PDF documents at no charge. A quick search of the internet will provide several additional sources to access. Google also offers a patent search option. 

Q. How do I go about finding information on a very old patent?

A. To find patents dated from 1790 to the present, do a bibliographic search.

Q. What is a utility patent?

A. A utility patent covers inventions that enhance the functionality of an existing object or adds a new function not previously provided.

Q. What is a design patent?

A. This type of patent improves on an already existing invention without changing the object's functionality. 

Q. Is there a different patent for plants?

A. Yes. Depending on the type of plant you want to patent determines the patent type. For new plants that are grown or grafted, a plant patent is necessary. For genetically engineered plants, you will need a utility patent.

Q. What is a Patent and Trademark Resource Center?

A. A Patent and Trademark Resource Center is part of a nationwide network of libraries. Representatives are available to assist the public with help and/or information about the patent process. 

If you need help with researching a patent, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.