Query Syntax Details

This chapter covers all the syntax you'll need to know to become an expert patent searcher.


There are two types of terms:

  1. Single Terms
  2. Phrases (strings)

A Single Term is a single word such as “test” or “hello."

A Phrase (often called a string) is a group of words surrounded by double quotes, such as “Hello Dolly.”

Multiple terms can be combined together with Boolean operators to form more complex queries.


AcclaimIP supports fielded data.  When performing a search, you can specify a field, or use the Default Field Set (which includes title, abstract, claims, specification, assignee, inventor, document number, and others).  A Cheat Sheet showing all of the fields you can query can be found as a help file located at Start>Help>Cheat Sheet, or by clicking on the Help icon on the AcclaimIP desktop and the Cheat Sheet tab on the Help window.  From here you can also download a pdf of the most commonly used field codes.

You can search over 50 different data fields by typing the field code followed by a colon “:” and the term or string that you are searching for.

For example, to search both the patent title field (TTL) for the string “coffee maker” and the abstract field (ABST) for the string “heating element,” use the following syntax:

TTL:”coffee maker” AND ABST:”heating element”

If you wanted to search the patent title field for the string "switching transmission modes," and search the Default Field Set for the term "802.11n," you would use the following syntax example:

TTL:”switching transmission modes” AND 802.11n

Since you are searching for the text “802.11n” in the Default Field Set, a field indicator is not required.

You can type this example into the Quick Seach tab or into the Query field in your Search Results window’s Refine Search panel.

Note that the field is only valid for the term that it directly precedes.  For example, look at the following query:

TTL:switching transmission modes

This query will only find “switching” in the title field.  The system will also search for “transmission” and “modes,” but will search in the Default Field Set, and not just in the patent title field.  This is discussed in more depth below.

Using Parentheses and Double-Quotes

TTL:(switching transmission modes) finds documents with all three terms in the patent title field in any order.

TTL:”switching transmission modes” finds patent documents with the three terms in the indicated order.

A Common Mistake:

Probably the most common mistake people make is not using quotation marks or parentheses when they should.  Consider the following query:

ANC:Seiko Epson Corp

The query finds the term "Seiko" in the ANC field, but finds both "Epson" and "Corp" in the Default Field set and returns more results that expected.

ANC:(Seiko Epson Corp) requires that all three terms are found in the ANC field.

ANC:"Seiko Epson Corp" requires that all three terms appear in the indicated order in the ANC field.

Wildcard Searches

AcclaimIP supports single and multiple character wildcard searches within single terms (not within phrase queries).

To perform a single character wildcard search use the “?” symbol.

To perform a multiple character wildcard search use the “*” symbol.

The single character wildcard search finds terms that match the searched for term, but with any one character in the position where the single character wildcard is placed.  For example, to search for “text” or “test” in the Specification you can use the search:


Multiple character wildcard searches find documents with terms containing zero or more characters in place of the “*“ symbol.  For example, to search for test, tests, testing, testable or tester in the Default Field Set, use the search:


You can also use a wildcard search in the middle of a term.


This search will not only find test and text, but also terms like tempt, tennant, etc.

Note: You cannot use a * or ? symbol as the first character of a search.

Fuzzy Searches

AcclaimIP supports fuzzy searches based on the Levenshtein Distance algorithm. To do a fuzzy search, use the tilde, “~”, symbol at the end of a single term.  For example, to search for a term similar in spelling to “roam” in the Abstract, use the fuzzy search:


This search will find terms like foam and roams.

An optional parameter specifies the required similarity. The value must be between 0 and 1.  Values closer to 1 match terms with a higher similarity to the term used in the query.  For example:


The default value, if a parameter is not specified in a fuzzy search, is 0.5.

Proximity Searches

AcclaimIP supports searching for terms that are within a specific distance of each other.  To do a proximity search, use the tilde, “~”, symbol at the end of a phrase and a number immediately after the tilde.  For example, to search for “remote” and “control” within 10 words of each other in the Claims of a document, use the search:

ACLM:“remote control”~10

You should use proximity searches often.  String searches may limit your searches' recall.  

NEAR Operator

NEAR is a type of Boolean operator that finds terms that are within a specific distance (i.e. are near) each other.  Unlike basic proximity searching, you can use wildcards, truncated terms, and nested Booleans with the NEAR operator, and the terms do not have to be in a particular order.

NEAR is properly typed in all upper case letters, and is followed by a number, which represents the padding.  The padding is the maximum number of terms that can be found between the two terms.  By default, the padding is set to zero (0) if there is no explicit padding number given.  Some examples are:

light NEAR1 diode  -->  Finds "light emitting diode," for example, with the term "emitting" representing the 1 term of padding between the two expressed terms.

light NEAR diode -->  Requires that both terms are next to each other in order to return a patent.  In other words, this search would return "light diode" and "diode light".

NEAR can also be used in complex nested queries.  For example:

mouth NEAR5 (protector OR guard OR shield)

NEAR can be used with wildcards in complex nested Boolean queries as well.  For example:

("mobile device" OR "cell phone") NEAR10 (signal OR emit*)

ADJ Operator

The Adjacency or ADJ operator works similarly to the NEAR operator, but the terms must be in the order you specify.  For example:

Light ADJ5 diode  -->  Finds patents with 5 or fewer terms between "light" and "diode" but requires that "light" is to the left of "diode."

Examples of NEAR/ADJ queries.

Query Syntax

foo NEAR3 bar

foo* NEAR bar

(foo OR bar) NEAR10 something

(foo AND bar) NEAR something

(foo bar) NEAR something --> Note that this is the same as above (because the default operator is AND)

"foo bar" NEAR something

(foo ADJ3 bar) ADJ (x NEAR y)

TTL:(foo NEAR bar)

TTL:(foo NEAR bar OR something) --> Note that this is equivalent to the following:  TTL:(foo NEAR bar) OR TTL:something

a OR b NEAR c OR d --> Note that this is equivalent to the following:  a OR (b NEAR c) OR d

(a OR b) NEAR (c OR d) --> Note that some people unfamiliar with searching may possibly intend this search and instead type the above.  They are not the same search.

"near" --> Note that this searches on the literal word near, so:

TTL:"near" --> searches the Title field for the term "near" but TTL:near will give you an error.


Queries that give errors                             Error message

NEAR                                                            Unexpected NEAR by itself

foo NEAR                                                      Unexpected NEAR without right side clause

near foo                                                         Unexpected NEAR without left side clause

TTL:foo NEAR SPEC:bar                              Fields on both sides of NEAR must match

TTL:foo NEAR (SPEC:bar OR ABST:bar)     Fields on both sides of NEAR must match

TTL:foo NEAR (SPEC:bar AND ABST:bar)   Fields on both sides of NEAR must match

foo NEAR (a OR b AND c)                             Cannot mix AND/OR with NEAR

foo NEAR (a AND b OR c)                             Cannot mix AND/OR with NEAR

foo NEAR (NOT b)                                         Cannot use NOT with NEAR

foo NEAR (a NOT b)                                      Cannot use NOT with NEAR

Range Queries

Range Queries allow you to match documents whose field values are between the lower and upper bounds specified by the Range Query.  Range Queries can be inclusive or exclusive of the upper and lower bounds.  Sorting is done lexicographically.  For example:

ISD:[20020101 TO 20030101]

Finds documents whose issue date (ISD) has values between 20020101 and 20030101, inclusive of the two end dates.

Special Terms Used in Range Queries:

The term NOW can be used in place of today’s date.  If you use NOW as a date in your saved queries, then the date will always move forward to the present date.

ISD:[01/01/2000 to NOW]  — shows all patents issued from 01/01/2000 to today.

ISD:[NOW-5YEARS to NOW]  — shows all patents issued in the last five years.  

Note: “NOW-5YEARS” is the first parameter in this query and the “-” does not mean “to” in the range query.  Written this way, it means minus.

EXP:[* TO NOW-1DAY] —  shows all the expired patents in the set.  Here, * means any past date and “NOW-1DAY” means yesterday.  Remember, too, that range queries using square brackets are inclusive of the two ends of the range.

EXP:[NOW TO *] —  displays all active patents where the predicted expiration date on the patent is from NOW (today), to anytime in the future (the *).

Note that Range Queries are not reserved for date fields.  You can also use range queries with non-date fields.  For example:

FCITE_CT:[10 to *]  —  finds all documents with 10 or more forward citations.

FEXCITE_CT:[50 to *]  —  finds all documents with 50 or more examiner citations.

Inclusive range queries are denoted by square brackets. Exclusive range queries are denoted by curly brackets.

ISD:{2000 to 2012} —  finds patents whose issue date is from 2001 to 2011 (it does not include the years 2000 or 2012 because of the curly brackets).

For consistency, we recommend you never use curly brackets and always use square brackets.  You can use them if you so choose, but it can become a little bizarre.  For example, ISD:{2010 to 2014} returns patents issued from 2011 to 2013 which doesn't read well.

Boosting a Term

Term boosting is used for weighting terms based on their frequency or relative importance in documents that are a match to your search.  The default sort should always be Relevance when using term boosting.  

To boost a term, use the caret symbol (the ^ symbol) with a boost factor (a number) following the term you search.  The higher the boost factor, the more relevant or higher weighted the term will be in the search results.

Boosting allows you to control the relevance of a term by boosting its importance in the document.  For example, if you are searching for coffee filter, and you want the term “coffee” to be more relevant, boost it using the ^ symbol, along with a boost factor, next to the term.  You could type:

coffee^4 filter  —>  boosts documents with the term “coffee” and they appear higher on the search result list.  You can also boost phrases, as in the example:

“coffee filter”^4 “coffee maker”

By default, the boost factor is 1.  Although the boost factor must be positive, it can be less than 1 (e.g., 0.2).

The Boolean AND Operator

The AND operator is the default conjunction operator. This means that if there is no Boolean operator between two terms, the AND operator is used.  The AND operator links two terms and finds a matching document if both of the terms exist in a document.  This is equivalent to an intersection using sets.

To search for documents that contain both the phrase “coffee filter” and the term “heater” use the query:

“coffee filter” AND heater

The symbol && (double ampersand) can be used in place of the word AND.

The Boolean OR Operator

The OR operator matches documents where either term exists anywhere in the text of a document.  This is equivalent to a union using sets.

To search for documents that contain either the phrase “coffee filter” or the phrase “coffee maker” use the query:

“coffee filter” OR “coffee maker”

A good search technique is to use the Boolean OR operator between synonyms (with or without boosting) when searching for a concept.  For example:

(video OR monitor OR display OR screen)

The + Operator

The “+” operator (also known as the "Required" operator) requires that the term after the “+” symbol exists somewhere in a field of a document.

To search for documents that must contain “coffee” and contains the term “filter” use the query:

+coffee filter

The NOT Operator

The NOT operator excludes documents that contain the term after NOT.  This is equivalent to a difference using sets.

To search for documents that contain the phrase “coffee maker” but not the phrase “coffee filter” you can use the query:

“coffee maker” NOT “coffee filter”

The Hyphen (-)

The “-” operator (also know as the "Prohibit" operator) excludes documents that contain the term after the “-” symbol.

To search for documents that contain the phrase “coffee maker” but not the phrase “coffee filter” you can use the query:

“coffee maker” -”coffee filter”

The Exclamation Point (!)

The "!" operator excludes documents that contain the term after the "!" symbol.

To search for documents that contain the phrase “coffee maker” but not the phrase “coffee filter” you can use the query:

"coffee maker" ! "coffee filter"


AcclaimIP supports using parentheses to group clauses to form sub-queries.  It is useful if you want to control the Boolean logic for a query.

To search for either the terms “coffee” or “tea” and the term “filter” use the query:

(coffee OR tea) AND filter

The parentheses eliminate any confusion and makes sure that the term “filter” must exist, and at least one of the terms “coffee” or “tea,” must also exist.

Note:  You should be aware that the optional terms “coffee” and “tea” will affect the Relevance sort, so documents with a high density of all three terms will show up at the top of the list, and documents with a single occurrence of “filter” and a single occurence of either “coffee” or “tea” will appear at the bottom of the list.

Field Grouping

AcclaimIP supports using parentheses to group multiple clauses in a single field.

To search for a title that contains both the term “coffee” and the phrase “flavoring method” use the query:

TTL:(coffee +”flavoring method”)  —  this is the same as typing:

(TTL:coffee AND TTL:”flavoring method”)  —  but is a little shorter.

Searching Empty or Not Empty Fields

Empty, or null, fields, as well as fields with data in them (not empty fields), can be searched by using the FIELD search parameter:

FIELD:isnotemptyICN AND NOT ICN:US  —  finds all patents with non-US inventors.

FIELD:isemptyANRE_CUR  —  finds all patents with no current, registered assignee.

Escaping Special Characters

AcclaimIP supports escaping special characters that are part of the query syntax. The current list of special characters are:

+ - && || ! ( ) { } [ ] ^ “ ~ * ? : \

To escape these characters, use the \ before the character.  For example to search for (1+1):2 use the query:


Remember that you can also escape the characters by placing them inside of quotes.  So the following would return the same results:


You can also use this technique if you want to escape any of the advanced syntax.  For example, the following searches are very different:

car \or seat — finds all patents with the term "car," the term "seat," AND the term "or" in the Default Field Set.

car OR seat — finds all patents with either the term "car" or the term "seat."

Remember, though, that since many of the avanced syntax terms are very common words in English (e.g., and, or, not, etc.), your result sets could be quite large.


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