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Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Intellectual Property: Prior Art/ State of the Art Searching


Databases: Remember to look at both patent and non-patent literature

To review the basics of patents, and inventor and entrepreneurial resources, look at the US Patent and Trademark Organization (USPTO).  

  • PatFT - is the USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image 

A few sample non patent databases:

Various business databases such as: IBIS, Gale, Proquest, Business Source Elite and Nexus Uni

Why Do A Prior Art/ State of the Art Search

Most inventions are a solution to a problem. Most problems have several solutions,  to persuade one that your idea is better one needs to know what alternatives are.

A prior art/ state of the art search allows one to:

  • Understand how the idea fits into the technical field
  • Be better prepared to discuss your idea/ invention with others
  • Look for any evidence of invention that is already known ex: cave painting centuries-old tech, an idea that can’t possibly work, an already existing product
  • If you do not look companies or investors certainly will – if they find critical prior art you missed, then obtaining  help or funding for your invention may be more challenging

Tips for Doing a State of the Art Search

The Art of Patent Searching

  1. Brainstorm terms describing the invention (look at tech dictionary/thesaurus)
  2. Keyword search – use Boolean operators AND/OR, “quotes”
  3. Identify the Classification (CPC) Search Patent Classification Systems (
  4. Retrieve and review published patent applications from keyword, classification search
  5. Look at related patents, cited references
  6. Broaden  your search 
    1. look at foreign patents 
    2. Search non-patent print and electronic publications (ex: books, journals, technical catalogs, conference proceedings


  • Do not ignore evidence that you do not like, the purpose is to find what could be bad news and figure out how your idea is different/ better
  • An absences of prior art at the time of search may not be permanent, embargos or hiddent patents/papers/ thesis/ or ideas may not come up at first so it is important to update your prior art/ state of the art search periodically

Types of Patents

Provisional – not examined, placeholder patent

Nonprovisional – examined – three types

  1. Utility – Any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, composition of matter or any new and useful improvision   Example: bicycle
  2. Design – Protects the appearance of an item  Example: Disposable Water Bottles
  3. Plant – A plant invented or discovered  that is asexually reproduced – incudes cultivated stock, hybrids, mutants  Example: “New Dawn Rose” – US plant patent number 1