Keyword Searching Basics

In this article, we'll review some of the basic ideas behind keyword searching.  

Patent documents are full of words.  Patents themselves can be relatively short, such as a two page design patent.  However, other patents can contain over 1000 pages of text!

Keywords are mainly found in four fields: Title, abstract, claims, and specification (which is also called the description or the disclosure).  When keyword searching, you'll want to keep in mind where in the document you want to search for certain terms, and how the language might vary in different parts of the document.

A keyword can be either a single term, such as "fingerprint," "security," or "financial," or a string such as "light emitting diode," "wireless communication" or "target molecule."

Too often patent searchers rely too heavily on keyword searching.  Keyword searching is amazingly powerful, but it should be used in conjunction with classification and date searching for optimal results.

You can search keywords using the Query Builder search tab in the Search window. Note that you can also use the Fielded Search tab, but this is recommended only for very basic searches, because AcclaimIP only uses the Boolean AND operator automatically between each of the fields.  

By default, AcclaimIP has the Boolean AND operator between each of the field rows (1).  But notice in the example, I changed this to OR by clicking the dropdown arrow and selecting what I wanted. From there, on the first row, I decided that this query requires that patents have "endoscope" in the Title field (2).  I then wanted to search claims, but didn't know the field code. So I began typing "claims" (3) and will select the top one (ACLM) to look for my search string in any claim. Note that in the Value box (4), you can use Boolean operators, quotes, wild cards, and any other syntax as well (except field codes). In this case, I wanted either the string "optical system" OR camera in the Claims field.  When I click Search for the above, the advanced syntax that AcclaimIP sends to the query parser is:

  • TTL:endoscope OR ACLM:("optical system" OR camera)

In the example above, I used the rather unusual patentese string "optical system" to mean camera.  The agents/attorneys who draft patents defined this string to mean camera in a very broad sense.  I didn't know it was an important search term until I first surveyed some patent claims.  Once I discovered this concept, I knew to use it in my search as well as the initial term "camera." I find that the Concept chart in the charting package helps me to find terms, too, that I might have otherwise not known other attorneys use.

Patent Title Field

The title of a patent is designed to give the essence of the invention in as few words as possible.

Be careful searching the Title field only.  You will never get comprehensive search results since there are so few terms to adequately describe the invention in most cases.  Because of this, patent titles are often quite broad.

That being said, I use the Title field all the time.  Not for comprehensive searches, but for quickly surveying a technology with a simple query.  TTL:endoscope gives you enough patents to get a feel for how the inventions break out, so that you can do more sophisticated keyword searches later on.

Continuing the example above, the term "endoscope" appears in hundreds of patent titles with no other descriptive text.  One might think that the patented invention is an endoscope, but an endoscope is a complex instrument with many components.  These include various tips, lighting systems, camera systems, systems to adjust its shape, handle arrangements, and methods for recording, storing and distributing the output recorded by the camera.  Patents generally read on features of components of devices (for example a mobile phone is a device, a screen would be a component, and maybe a new scratch resistance feature of the glass that makes up the screen would be the feature that the patent was written about).  When searching only the Title field, you don't have enough keywords available to make those distinctions.

In other sections, such as the Advanced Keyword Searching, you'll learn some techniques to effectively search when you start with such a large set. AcclaimIP is very good at boiling down the set using charts, filters, etc., to hone in on what you are actually looking for.

Patent Abstract Field

The patent abstract is a single paragraph that describes the invention in summary form, and is often simply a general restatement of the first claim.  As a rule of thumb, think of patent abstracts as having about 125 words.  Design patents have no patent abstracts.

Patent abstracts often contain the terms that identify the inventions you are searching.

Patent Claims Field

Patent claims are the meat of the invention that describe the boundaries of the patent and the extent of the legal protection of the invention.

When you search the Claim(s) field, you are searching all the claims at once, not just a single claim.  Keywords are often repeated in the claims, as authors tend to write similar claims to cover methods, apparatus, and other claim types.  The dependent claims usually repeat the same terms as well.

Claims tend to use author-defined terms that are not common in everyday speech, such as "processor based system," "optical system," "image capture system," "handheld device," and "self-service terminal" which are designed to broaden the overall scope of computer, camera, camera, mobile phone, and ATM respectively.

It is impossible to accurately search claims text without first surveying some representative patents to uncover these creative, author-defined concepts.

Patent Specification Field

The patent specification is also called the description or disclosure of the patent.  The specification is composed of several sections including:

  • Background
  • Summary of the invention
  • Description of the drawings
  • Detailed description of the invention

When you search the Specification (SPEC) field, AcclaimIP searches the entire specification.  Specifications can be very long.  For example, in 2013, 295 patents had more than 100,000 words in their specification--longer than the average novel!

When drafting patents you can be your own lexicographer.  This means you can specify how you define any term in the patent, even basic terms.  I like to think of the specification as containing business-technical language.  By contrast, the claims contain legal-technical language.  As a general rule, you'll find far more "normal" descriptors in the specification than you'll find in the claims.

Finding Synonyms

One of the challenges we all face when searching for patents is finding all the ways that creative patent attorneys use to describe the same feature or component.

The best technique is to use the patent data itself.  Take a moment to watch this video, you'll find that there is a simple, repeatable method.

NOTE: This is a video based on an older version of AcclaimIP.  The layout is going to look different to you, but the ideas are still the same.  Therefore, we are leaving it here for the time being as it gives you a really good sense of what you can do and how you can search using AcclaimIP.  Just be aware that the layout presented in the video and your layout is going to be different.


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