You’re doing in depth research on, say, artificial knee implants. Perhaps you’re applying for a research grant or thinking about applying for a patent. You need to do a comprehensive search and find everything that’s out there. You’ve searched PubMed, then other databases such as Web of Science (WoS) and BIOSIS Previews. That’s it then, isn’t it? Unfortunately, no isn’t! If you really want to do a comprehensive search and find as much scientific or technical information as you can about any topic, you would have to search the patent literature. Databases such as Chemical Abstracts and BIOSIS Previews include some patent records, but if you want access to the complete patent literature you have to go beyond bibliographic databases and the peer-reviewed literature.
A patent is not just a legal document but is also a technical description of an invention, be it a new drug compound, an artificial knee joint or a new procedure for isolating DNA. The patent literature is an important, unique, and often overlooked source of technical and research data, much of which is never published or disclosed elsewhere. It is estimated that up to 80% of scientific or technical information disclosed in a patent application is not disclosed anywhere else. Because a patent application needs to be applied for before the first publication of an invention, patents and patent applications are often published earlier than academic papers.
Thankfully, the majority of the patent literature is now freely available on the web. The following are links to free key sources for patent information. These sites also provide general information about patents and the patent process:
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USTPO) provides bibliographic details or access to the full text of US patents from 1976 and TIFF images for all patents from 1790 to the present
The patent database of the European Patent Office (EPO) offers free patent searching of documents from over 50 different countries and access to the full text of many via its esp@cenet interface.
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)’s PATENTSCOPE lets you search 10,078,403 patent documents, including 1,982,614 published international patent applications (PCT).
Google Patents searches over 7 million patents granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) as well as patent applications submitted to the office.