Searching for Prior Art

In order for an innovation to be patentable, the work must be new, useful, and non-obvious to others in the same area of research. It is important to identify prior art (the body of knowledge that already exists on a subject) to understand what has already been done in the field and to determine whether the innovation — or parts of the innovation — meets the requirements of being new and non-obvious.

Innovators are uniquely able to conduct an effective prior art search because of their familiarity with the subject matter. In addition, if the innovator can provide information about prior art to the Industry Engagement staff, it will expedite the evaluation and protection process. If you need assistance with any step, please contact the Office of Industry Engagement.

Why research prior art?

There are several reasons to conduct a prior art search before submitting a patent application. The search provides information about whether any other similar innovations exist and where an innovation fits within a broad field of study, which can be very helpful when drafting a patent application. A prior art search may also insight regarding new uses or new markets for the innovation. Finally, the existence of prior art may preclude patenting and commercialization.

How to perform a prior art search

A basic patent search involves searching a publicly available patent database using keywords that are closely related to the innovation and that would appear in a summary statement of a similar innovation. The innovator can typically skim through a large number of patents to discard those that have little or no relevance. If some innovations are found that do have relevance, it is important to read through these patents or patent applications in detail. To begin a prior art search, visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office website and follow their seven-step strategy.

The next part of this process is evaluation of the innovation’s commercial potential.