Did you know that you can conduct patent searches on the USPTO website? I never actually took the time to review the steps outlined in the tutorial provided by the USPTO, but I took a quick look at it recently. Basically, this is what the USPTO recommends that you do:
From the homepage, click on Quick Links.
You can click on PatFT to look for registered patents, or click on AppFT to look for patent application publications. For the purposes of this article, we're going to click on PatFT.
Now this is where you need to start thinking. You can put in any search term you want, but be realistic and put in search terms that are not so broad that you will have over 1,000 results. The field for patents and patent application publication differ. For instance, you can search by attorney or agent for patents, but not for patent application publications. This is because attorney or agent information is not shown on the publications.
The USPTO recommends that you enter Current CPC (Cooperative Patent Classification) Classification. Yes, you read that right. There's extra "classification" in there... just like how ATM (automated teller machine) machine should really be just ATM. G06F17/60 is administrative, commercial, managerial, supervisory or forecasting purpose.
Here's the first thing I don't like about using this method. CPC for many of us is completely foreign. How do you know which CPC is the most appropriate? Usually you have to take a look at related patents and patent application publications first and see which CPC is listed in those patents/patent application publications. Or you could go to the CPC page on the USPTO website and try to find the right classification(s).
Luckily, our CPC yields 54 results so it's not an unmanageable number. But here's the second thing I don't like about searching on the USPTO. The user interface is awful. All you see is a long list of patent numbers and title, so you know nothing about these patents until you click through each one. And reading a patent on the USPTO website is a little difficult due to the format.
Lastly, remember that as with all databases, the USPTO database will provide results based on what is in the patent/patent application publication. This means that if there is inaccurate information in the patent/patent application publication, then that patent/patent application publication may not be an accurate result.
VERDICT: 3 out of 5 stars. USPTO is usually one of the last place I look when doing a patent search, and I use this database to make sure I haven't missed a relevant patent. I would give it more stars if the user interface was a little bit more friendly. Additionally, this method of searching is not for beginners. You need to play around with it a few times to get a hang of it.