In the previous post – L – Let’s Do Patent Research – I discussed the value of doing some patent research early on in the inventing process.

You can perform a reasonably good patent search for free using the US Patent Office website ( I recommend pursuing a three-step approach that will take a good deal of time and effort on your part but will be well worth it:

Step One: an initial high-level search of patents
Step Two: a more detailed search using Class Codes
Step Three: a third pass by searching referenced patents

I suggest getting a large three-ring binder and printing out appropriate patents that have some similarity to yours and putting them into a logical order.

For Step One, go to, click on Patent Search under Popular Links. Next select USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database (PatFT) and then under Full Text Patents (since 1976). click on Quick Search. Enter a descriptive phrase into the Term 1 such as “wine bottle cork” and you will get a list of issued patents. Some lists are very long and some rather short.

For Step Two – look at any patent from your list that is similar to your product and notice there is a “Current US Class” with codes to the right. These are class codes that can be used for a deeper search using an Advanced search. Click on the Advanced button at the top and then click on the Current US Classification hyperlink to get instructions how to do this more detailed search. This will point you to a number of patents you would miss if you just searched on a text string.

For Step Three – again looking at any given patent from your list, scroll down a bit and you will see a list of patents that it was compared against under the heading References Cited. The patents are hyperlinked so you can click on any one cited reference and go immediately to that patent. Once again, you will likely find additional patents you did not initially find from Step One or Step Two above.

As you spend some time on, all of the above will begin to make more sense to you. For more information, I do provide assistance with patent searching via my website

The next post will be N – Next Steps – What to do Now?