An Overview of Patents Online

By Glenda: First published in Online Currents – 20 (6) July/August 2005

Patents are an important source of scientific, technical and business information.  For anyone planning to apply for a patent, a search is crucial to identify the existence of ‘prior art’, which affects the patentability of an invention.  For researchers, patents can be important as they are often the only published information on specific topics, and can provide insight into research directions.  Patents are also used by marketing and competitive intelligence professionals, to find out about work being done by other companies.

Many library Web sites have excellent introductions to patent literature, and specific information on resources available to members of those libraries.  Good introductions are found at the following sites:

Trade marks, designs and plant breeders’ rights are other forms of intellectual property.  They are usually managed by the same organisations that manage patents, and information about them will often be found on many of the sites discussed below.  They will not be specifically discussed in this article.

WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) has good introductory material ( ), including a section on ‘Women and Intellectual Property’ ( ).

WIPO also has a number of economic development bureaux for geographic areas.  These bureaux develop intellectual property policy and systems modernisation; they also create value through licensing opportunities and they promote global protection systems.  The WIPO Web pages for each bureau provide information about their aims and activities, and link to national patent offices throughout the world:

Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT)
The WIPO-administered Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) provides for the filing of a single international patent application with a request for protection in as many signatory states as needed ( ).  The PCT applies to over 100 countries ( ).

Information That May be Provided in Patent Databases
Patent data may relate to unexamined and examined patent applications, and includes:

  • title and abstract in English (if the patent is in another language)
  • inventor’s name
  • patent assignee
  • patent publication data
  • images
  • full text (sometimes this is available through a separate database, or must be ordered)
  • International Patent Classification (IPC) codes.  The IPC is used by over 70 patent authorities to classify and index the subject matter of published patent specifications.  This is done primarily to assist the patent examiners, but results in a useful tool for searchers wishing to focus their searches.  The IPC is available at  There is a good introduction to the use of the IPC at the British Library Web site ( ).  Librarians may be interested to browse the IPC as a classification.  It is presumably based on literary warrant, and sections range from the very broad (e.g. B61 Railways) to the specific (e.g. B65 Conveying; packing; storing; handling thin or filamentary material).

You can also purchase a Patent File History (known as a File Wrapper).  This is the complete set of documents issued by the patent examiner, the applicant, and the applicant’s attorney from the time of patent application to issue.

Many of the patent information services also provide alerting services on a weekly or monthly basis to let you know of new patents within your fields of interest.

National and Regional Patents and Patent Offices
Patents are granted by a national patent office or by regional offices, such as the European Patent Office (EPO, ) and the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization ( ).  Patent information is provided by these organisations, sometimes through their own Web sites, sometimes as individual databases through commercial providers, and sometimes grouped with patents from other countries.  The commercial providers may provide advanced search systems and other add-ons (e.g. duplicate removal) to aid searching and data analysis.

The most important countries for patent information are the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Japan, with China and Korea as emerging sources.  Different countries may have a different mix of intellectual property resources, with cultural rights, for instance, being more important in some developing countries.

Australian patent information is available through IP Australia ( ).  The Web site provides links to search firms and inventors’ associations, and includes the Australian Patent Office Manual of Practice and Procedure (  Australian patents are also available through worldwide databases (see below).

Figure 2: IP Australia Home Page (screenshot published with the permission of IP Australia)

Chinese patent information is available through the Chinese Patent Office (SIPO, , and click on ‘ENTER’; if the site can’t be accessed, try again later, as it seems to be a bit erratic) and through the China Patent Information Center ( ).  Here, if you click on the red link ‘China patent abstract database’ in the top part of the screen, you get an English search mask (form) giving you access to English abstracts and the full text of Chinese patent documents.  There are no instructions.  Chinese data is also included in INPADOC ( ) and on the CPAT database on Questel-Orbit.

The full text of European patents is available through the EPFULL database, available through STN.  EPFULL replaces EUROPATFULL and PATOSEP.  Titles are available in all of the EPO’s official languages (English, German and French) and the complete specification is given in one of these languages.  European patent information is also available through EPAPAT, EPBPAT and EPPATENT on Questel-Orbit (a sample record can be seen at

The French national site, Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle (INPI) ( ), provides information in French only.

French patents can be searched through the FRANCEPAT database, available through STN.  All records are in French, but English descriptors have been added from 1987 onward.  The full text of 410,000 patent applications, published in France from 1980, is available through FRFULL, which is produced by Univentio and available on STN and Questel-Orbit.  FRFULL includes English titles and machine translated English abstracts for records from 1996 to the present.

The DPINFO service of the German Patent and Trade Mark Office ( is available in English and German versions and provides access to the Patents and Utility Models Register (including patents of the former East Germany).  You can register electronically for trial access to the service.

Full text patents in German are available from FIZ Karlsruhe, through the PATDPAFULL database on STN, and in German with English machine translations through the Univentio database on Dialog (File 324) and through DEPAT on Questel-Orbit.

The Japan Patent Office ( ) provides information on filing trends, revisions to patent laws, and procedures for obtaining industrial property rights in Japan, while the Industrial Property Digital Library (IPDL) ( ) offers free access to the patent databases.  There are some English abstracts and a machine translation tool is available, but the Web site is in Japanese.

JAPIO (JApan Patent Information Organization database) is produced by the Japanese Patent Office and supplied by FIZ Karlsruhe on STN ( ) and Questel-Orbit.  It contains more than 7,175,325 records, including 1.6 million INPADOC records ( ), and provides English-language access to Japanese unexamined patent applications (Kokai Tokkyo Koho) from 1976.

The PATOLIS database ( ) is one of the most comprehensive databases of Japanese industrial property rights.  The database is accessible in English via PATOLIS-e on Questel-Orbit.

KOREAPAT (Korean Patent Abstracts) is produced by the Korean Institute of Patent Information (KIPI), on behalf of the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO), and is supplied by FIZ Karlsruhe on STN.  It contains more than 592,162 records with English titles and abstracts.

New Zealand
At the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand Web site ( ) you can search the registers, pay renewal fees, file trade mark applications and find information on intellectual property in New Zealand.  New Zealand patents are also available through worldwide databases (see below).

Figure 3: New Zealand Intellectual Property Office Home Page (screen shot published with the permission of the Office)

United Kingdom
Documents from the UK Patent Office ( ) from 1979 are searchable through the UKPO esp@cenet database ( ).  Scanned images of the patents can be downloaded page by page.  The UKPO esp@cenet service provides limited search functionality and does not aim to replace the use of commercial online services by patent professionals.

The full text of UK patents is available commercially through the GBFULL database on STN.  GBFULL is produced by Univentio and contains 395,000 records published in the United Kingdom from 1979 to date.

United States
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Web site ( ) provides the full text of patents issued from 1976 to the present and TIFF images for all patents from 1790 to the present.  You can only search on patent numbers and/or classification codes for the pre-1976 patents.

The USPATFULL database is available through STN ( ) and contains full text and the current classifications for the original publication of patents issued by the US Patent and Trademark Office from 1975 to the present, with partial coverage of selected technologies from 1971-1974, and defensive publications from 1976 to the present.  Coverage includes granted utility patents, defensive publications, design patents, reissue patents, statutory invention registrations, plant patents, as well as US applications published since January, 2001.  It contains more than 3,000,000 citations.

USPAT2 ( ) is a companion file to USPATFULL, and contains full text and classifications for the latest publications of US patents and applications issued by the US Patent and Trademark Office since 2001.

USAPPS and USPAT files are available through Questel-Orbit.

The IFIPAT File (IFI Patent Database) and IFICDB File (IFI Comprehensive Database), on STN and Questel-Orbit, contain data from US utility patents, reissue patents, defensive publications, expired patents, and others.  Access to the IFICDB File is available only to subscribers.  Non-subscribers may use the IFIPAT and IFIUDB files that do not contain Fragment codes and Role indicators.

LITALERT is a new patent and trademark litigation awareness database, produced by Thomson Derwent and available on STN.  It provides information about US litigation affecting intellectual property, and contains over 65,000 records from 1973 to the present.

Worldwide Patent Information
Espacenet ( ) provides free access to a worldwide patent database containing over 50 million documents, 16.6 million of them with an abstract in English, from 71 countries. It includes documents from Japan, WIPO, the EPO and 19 European countries, including Great Britain (  Espacenet is available in English, German and French. It has an A-Z index (KWIC-style) and a downloadable PDF brochure on the service, as well as 35 short e-learning modules (requiring Flash Player 6 or higher).

EPIDOS-INPADOC PFS is one of the most comprehensive databases in which to perform worldwide patent family searches.  INPADOC covers about 95% of all patents published worldwide since 1973.  The Patent Family Service (PFS) provides a complete list of patents claiming the same priority.  The data provided includes the title of the invention (70% are in English).  Access is through commercial hosts and free via esp@cenet.

Derwent World Patents Index
The Derwent World Patents Index ( ) provides information on patent publications from the 41 most important patent issuing authorities of the world.  Each record in the database describes a patent family, starting with the new invention (Basic Patent) and adding information about the same invention issued in other countries (Equivalents).  It has more than 13,192,925 records (August 2004), including records from Australia (1963-69, 1983-present) and New Zealand (1993-present).

DWPI is available to subscribers in the STN WPIDS ( ) file, and to non-subscribers through WPINDEX ( ). It is also available on Dialog and Questel-Orbit (where relevant files are WPAT, WPIL, WPAM and WPAMNS).  Full Derwent subscribers can search by chemical structure and keyword type manual codes.

Derwent World Patents Index First View (WPIFV)
Derwent World Patents Index First View (WPIFV, ) contains previews of the latest published patent documents before their inclusion in Derwent World Patents Index.  English-language abstracts are available for patents from China, Japan, Korea, Russia, and Taiwan.  The file contains from 60,000 to 90,000 records and images (June 2004) and is updated every few days.  WPIFV includes patents from Australia and New Zealand and is available on STN, Dialog and Questel-Orbit.

Delphion ( ) is the search engine provided by Thomson Scientific and used with Derwent World Patents Index.  It provides a number of sophisticated search and data management options, including the ability to display forward and backward citations, clustering of data for analysis, and a corporate tree to make it easier to search for companies, even if their names and parents have changed.

WIPO/PCT Patents Fulltext
WIPO/PCT Patents Full Text (PCTFULL) covers the full text of Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) published applications issued under the auspices of WIPO since 1978.  At present, 124 member states participate in the PCT system.  A single PCT application can be designated as valid in any or all of the member states, so it is essentially equivalent to having filed with each designated national and regional patent office.

Text for PCT Applications has been created by Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software.  Therefore, characters may be misinterpreted, or portions of the text may be incomplete.  A small percentage of records are absent because they failed to scan.  The complete text is available only for documents in English, French, German and Spanish.

The database is produced by Univentio Information Services and supplied by FIZ Karlsruhe on STN ( ), as File 349 on Dialog, and through Questel-Orbit.

PlusPat and FamPat
PlusPat ( ) claims to be the world’s largest international patent file (as does PatentWeb), with records from the EPO, the EPO’s worldwide collection, the USPTO, WIPO, and Japanese patent information.

FamPat is the family design database of PlusPat. All data is searchable as a ‘family’ i.e. as a group of records relating to the patenting of the same invention in different countries.  This means that you have the ability to do Boolean searching between family equivalents and can display family records.

In March this year, Scirus ( ) added 13 million patent documents to its database, due to a partnership with LexisNexis.  Full text information for recent USPTO, EPO and WIPO’s PCT patents is searchable on Scirus, as well as bibliographical information in English for JPO patents.

PatentWeb ( ) is the Thomson MicroPatent online repository that claims to have the world’s largest commercial collection of patent data (this is also claimed by PlusPat), with over 50 million records. With PatentWeb, you can do full text and front page research on all the major patenting authorities and many individual nations, and get patent copies and file histories.

You can do simple US patent searches on Google ( ) by typing the word ‘patent’ and a space before the patent number e.g. ‘patent 4237224’.

Patents by Subject Area
Some patent databases group patents by subject area rather than by country of origin.  The databases may also include relevant non-patent data. Some examples follow.

IMSPATENTS is a database of patent family data for commercially significant drugs.  Each record contains drug names, therapeutic class, and CAS Registry Numbers, as well as patent and priority information.  The file contains information collected by the IMS network of offices and published in Patents International.

ENCOMPPAT contains citations to patents relating to the petroleum and petrochemical industries.  Since 1982, coverage has been worldwide.  Patents are sourced from Derwent European Patent Report, Derwent Chemical Patents Index (1972-) and Chemical Abstracts (non-Derwent).  The database is produced by Elsevier Engineering Information Inc.

Derwent Biotechnology Resource covers the worldwide literature on all aspects of biotechnology.  About 30% of the database cites patent publications.  The database is produced and supplied by Thomson Scientific.

CAplus ( ) is the most comprehensive chemistry database available from CAS (Chemical Abstracts Service).  It is available through STN and SciFinder.  CAplus includes international journals, patents ( ), patent families, conference proceedings, and other sources from all areas of chemistry, biochemistry, chemical engineering, and related sciences, from 1907 to the present.

Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) also provides Science IP ( ), a search service for scientific intellectual property protection.

Questel-Orbit, Derwent and INPI have produced the Merged Markush Service ( ), a graphic chemical database for the retrieval of compounds used in definitions in patents.

Defensive Disclosure and Prior Art Searches
RDISCLOSURE is a defensive publication service on STN that allows a company or individual to protect an invention by publishing the invention as quickly as possible.  It is used by companies who do not want to patent an invention, but who want to establish ‘prior art’ so that nobody else can patent the same invention.  Research disclosures can also be accessed on RDISC on Questel-Orbit.
Defensive disclosure is also available through Delphion, via its links to ( ).  This service is only available to subscribers. created the Prior Art Database to give companies a centralised outlet for publishing and searching technical disclosures.  Its clients include IBM, General Electric, Motorola, Abbott Laboratories, and Eastman Kodak. Fundamental software for their database enables the provision of verifiable date-stamps and ensures the integrity of electronic files.

In 2000, BountyQuest launched a Web site ( ) through which companies offered a minimum $10,000 reward to the first ‘bounty hunter’ who could provide the prior art (patents or published references) that would invalidate a patent they wished to challenge.  The site is no longer on the Web, and a post at the O’Reilly site ( suggests that the project wasn’t financially viable.

Commercial Database Providers
Many of the databases discussed above are available through a number of commercial providers.  They are listed below with some of their special features.

STN is partnered with FIZ Karlsruhe in Europe ( ), with JST in Japan ( – in Japanese) and with CAS in North America and elsewhere ( ).  It is searchable through STN Express and STN Easy.

The STN Easy site has a ‘what’s new’ section that allows you to track changes to database availability and features ( ) and provides Database Summary Sheets ( ).

LexisNexis ( ) notes four services related to patents:

  • Patent and Trademark Delivery Services lets you order copies of original US and European patents as e-mail attachments, on CD-ROM, or printed on high-quality paper
  • Patent and Trademark File History Services provides patent and trademark file histories relating to prosecution of patents through the USPTO
  • Prior art searching, with relevant information highlighted, and copies of the cited prior art
  • Japanese patent machine translations.

They are also the provider of patent information to the free Scirus search engine.

LexisNexis has recently released LexisNexis PatentOptimizer, a software application for the drafting and analysis of patent applications and granted patents.  PatentOptimizer allows users to quickly see patents and cases that have referenced key terms in their patent, and link to them directly.

The list of databases available through Questel-Orbit ( ) is available as a PDF file (

Questel-Orbit’s PatentExaminer ( ) displays the full text of patents and original facsimile patents side-by-side, and can deliver SDI alerts.

Thomson Scientific
Thomson Scientific is an important host of patent databases through Dialog ( ), and a supplier through Derwent and MicroPatent.  It also provides patent search and data management software through Delphion. It has recently published the 2005 Patent Focus Report, a summary of patenting developments in Europe, the US, Japan and India ( ).

From free national databases and worldwide searches to sophisticated search and data analysis systems provided by commercial providers, there is a wide range of sites on the Web to provide information about all sorts of patent data.

All links were accessed on 31 May 2005.