It was IBM who first brought practical free patent searching to the masses. But IBM’s service has now been replaced by delphion.com which requires registration for even a basic search, and charges you to download the fruits of your search.
So what can you use instead? James Ryley, President of FreePatentsOnline.com naturally suggests his own site, which lets you search without registering. You can view the text plus a representative image online, however you need to register for anything beyond that.
The natural place from which to search is surely the US Patent and Trademark Office Patent Search. Here you can view the text and all the images. But not so fast! The images are in TIFF format, which most browsers won’t be able to see without installing a plugin. And the site is somewhat arcane – for example, there are complicated instructions for linking to individual patents.
Once again, Google comes to the rescue. Google Patent Search makes it easy to search over 7 million patents, and it doesn’t make you sing and dance before you see the results. You get the text, the images (directly viewable from the browser) and a PDF download if you need it. No fuss, no muss.
So much for the technical resources, but how do you actually find what you need to know? Alice Kawakami, Information Specialist at the University of Southern California, shares tips about Patents and Patent Searching, or you may prefer eHow’s more basic description of How to Conduct a Patent Search.
If you want to know much more about how the patent system works, there’s a huge and informative document on Patent Search.
On the other hand, if the whole patent system strikes you as absurd, disfunctional and self-serving, then you are not alone. Bustpatents.com explains and evangelizes all the problems – then offers legal resources and tools to help you “survive the patenting frenzy of the Internet, Bioinformatics, and Electronic Commerce”.