This article is written by Satyaki Deb, an LL.M. candidate from the Rajiv Gandhi School of Intellectual Property Law, IIT Kharagpur. It briefly deals with the basics of patent search and aims to conceptualize the basics of patent search, the types of Australian patent search any user can do for free on public databases, and how to do them.

This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.​​ 


In this fast-developing world, new inventions are being made daily, and the rush to patent them is logical. But inventions are vastly complex these days, and no invention should be made without doing periodic patent searches to avoid repetition, waste of funds, or, worse, patent infringement. Patent searches also help in deciding the future course of research and development, reducing the risk of patent litigation, chartering the best course to protect and exploit a patent portfolio, deciding new products for the market, gaining new insights concerning licensing or merger and acquisition opportunities, etc. Australia is a highly developed country with a rapidly improving economy and naturally, searching for Australian patents can be necessary for anyone in the world.

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The present article discusses the basics of patent search, the types of Australian patent search and how to do them.

Basics of patent search

It is advisable for beginners to do a simple search before moving ahead with an advanced search in the patent databases. A simple search can be done by putting in the patent number, inventor name, assignee name, date, citation, and legal status in the patent office databases or other free/subscribed patent databases. The advanced search usually gives the option of combining search options, like combining abstract and claims, etc. The following screenshots from the Google Patents database will portray what is a simple search and an advanced search better.

Simple Search: In the search box, type in your patent number, inventor name, keywords, etc.

Fig. 1 (Simple Search)

Advanced search: By clicking the red-encircled advanced search options at the bottom of the simple search page (Fig. 1) on Google Patents, one can move to advanced search and reach Fig. 2. Below is a screenshot (Fig. 2) of the same, and the red markings show where one can combine multiple search options for better results.

The green markings indicate the search box where you can put in the best-suited keywords for your invention (explained later elaborately) by putting in individual and/or combined conditions like inventor name, assignee name, patent office, legal status, etc.

Fig. 2 (Advanced Search)

Databases for search

Based on the objective of the patent search, the user should determine the database where the search is to be done, and it is advisable that the same be conducted in a database that contains all the relevant patent documents from around the world. The best ones are the subscribed patent databases like Orbit (Questel), PatBase, Patseer, etc. because of their tons of premium features like user-friendly user interfaces, analytical data, charts, timely updates, analysis support, etc. Some of the leading free patent databases are Google Patents, Espacenet, Patentscope, Lens, etc. It is always advisable to also search the non-patent literature (NPL) in any of your selected databases because, sometimes, through conference proceedings, social media pages, or other mediums, identical or similar inventions may have already been put in the public domain. Non-patent literature may also be cited by examiners as an objection to your invention’s patentability.

Simple search

This is the simple search discussed above, and below is the most common type of simple search conducted.

Keyword search

Keyword search is the most fundamental process of patent search. But despite being the most commonly used and basic search, if it is not done in a structured and systematic way, the user will not get any relevant results. So, firstly, to do a structured keyword search related to an invention, it is best to make a table (as illustrated in Fig. 3) and proceed further. In the table, keywords and their synonyms indicating both the structural and functional aspects of the invention should be used. For best results, synonyms of the decided keywords should be chosen from a broad, narrow as well as related perspective.

Concept (different structural and functional aspects)SynonymORSynonymORSynonym
Concept 1
Concept 2
Concept 3
Concept 4

Fig. 3 (Structured Keyword Search)

To aid this structured keyword search, various operators like Boolean operators and Proximity or Wildcard operators are also used. Such operators along with their meanings are portrayed below (Fig. 4):

Boolean Operators
OR+Grouping operatorBroaden search retrieve results containing any of the keywords.
ANDCombining operatorRetrieve results containing all of the keywords.
NOTExcluding operatorRetrieve results that don’t contain the term following it.
Wildcard Operators
$ *Open truncationString of characters of any length.
?Limited truncationZero or one character.
“ ”Compound searchRetrieves documents with compound words.
( )ParenthesisCombining keywords with different Boolean operators.

Fig.4 (Operators and their meanings)

Limitations of keyword search

As stated before, keyword search is the most basic form of patent search and thus has some limitations, such as often inaccurate terminologies, different official languages in patents, varying detail levels of patent descriptions, etc., which prevent getting the best patent search results. So, to overcome these problems, classification search is also used, and every patent office has its own patent classification system.

Classification search

As the name suggests, a classification search is conducted by the classifications attributed to every patent application and granted patent. These classifications are basically codes that patent authorities assign to organise the lakhs of patent applications pouring into their offices. These codes are methodically applied based on their structural features, functional features, intended use, etc. There are some prominent classification systems that are used around the globe, viz., the International Patent Classification (IPC) system, the European Classification (ECLA) system, the United States Patent Classification (USPC) system, the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC), and the Japanese File Index and F-Term (FI/F-Term) classification system. Discussing each of them is beyond the practical scope of this article. The IPC, being relevant to the topic, will be discussed in relative detail.

The codes used for the classification of patents are hierarchically arranged, such that the topmost level contains the broadest category of inventions and the same decreases in number to the bottom. In other words, as one goes further down the codes, the inventions become more precise, the likelihood of their similarities increases, and naturally, the number of inventions decreases from the top level.

International Patent Classification System (IPC)

The International Patent Classification System (IPC) was started way back in 1971 by the Strasbourg Agreement, and every year on January 1, a new version of the IPC is launched. A new version every year is mainly necessary to accommodate the patenting of rapidly developing dimensions of science and technology. The IPC provides for a hierarchical system of classifying patents and utility models irrespective of any language based on the field of technology they belong to. A guide to the IPC is available here and provides details on the objectives, history, and reforms of the IPC.

Limitations of classification search

Classification search, though better than keyword search, has its own limitations like lacking definite classes for emerging new technologies, degree of subjectivity in the allocation of these classification codes by patent examiners (as in it is often seen that similar inventions are getting different codes in different patent offices), etc.

Combination search

To get over the limitations of keyword search and classification search, a combination search (Fig. 6) comprising both of these searches is the best method to do a patent search.

Fig. 6 (Combination Search)

Reasons to do a patent search

The following are the reasons why a patent search should be conducted:-

  • It will help you ascertain whether your invention or a similar product has already been patented by someone else in the world.
  • Specifications are a very crucial part of the patent application and you can see how similar patent applications are being written.
  • Patent searches are technical in nature, and professional assistance may be required, but as an inventor, if you do an initial patent search, it will save time and money as you know your invention best.
  • It will help you ascertain how new and inventive your patent is when you compare your invention with similar patented inventions. Novelty and non-obviousness being important criteria for patentability, a patent search will help you to judge the patent worthiness of your invention.
  • A patent search will also help you to ascertain possible objections (cited patents) that can be raised by the Patent Examiner in his report. This will help you to draft your patent claims in a manner that will help you to best defend your claims against possible objections by the Examiner.
  • Especially if your invention is in the latest technological fields such as blockchain, AI, etc., it is best to do a patent search to make sure that your invention is not causing any patent infringement. In other words, a patent search can potentially save you from future litigation costs that may befall you for infringing somebody else’s patent.
  • A patent search will also help you to gather competitive intelligence by analyzing the patent portfolio of your competitors in the market. This will further enable you to make informed and strategic business decisions.
  • A patent search will also enable you to realize if somebody has been granted a patent wrongly and if such a granted patent can be invalidated on grounds like lack of novelty, obviousness, etc. This successful invalidation of maybe your competitor’s patent can potentially enable you to go ahead with patenting your own invention.

Types of Australian Patent Search and how to do them

The following are the types of patent searches that one can do in the Australian Patent Database (AusPat):-

Quick Search

As the name suggests, a quick search is perfect for new users or for anyone who knows exactly what patent application they are searching for. In other words, the quick search feature acts as a simple search tool that permits the user to search selected fields. You can do a quick search by searching using the following criteria in any combinations- 

  • Australian Application/Patent Number/Provisional Number
  • WIPO Number
  • Serial Number (Patent Number)
  • Applicant Name
  • PCT Number
  • First IPC Mark
  • Invention Title
  • Inventor Name
  • Earliest Priority Date
  • Agent Name
  • Application Status
  • Filing Date

Fig. 7 (Quick Search: AusPat)

Fig. 7 shows the interface of the quick search in AusPat and can be accessed from here. The yellow mark in Fig. 7 shows the different available criteria through which the users can do a quick search in the AusPat.

How to do a quick search in AusPat

The following practical search will demonstrate how you can do a quick patent search in the AusPat. The search box in Fig. 7, encircled by a green mark, is the query box where you should put in your queries. It is always advised to do a structured keyword search as shown in Fig. 3 and Fig. 4 because random keyword searches rarely give usable search results. In other words, a systematic keyword search with Boolean operators is the best way to do a quick patent search. If you know the exact phrase you want to look up, you can put the same in between double quotes.

If the term “human stem cell” is typed in the query box (circled in green in Fig. 7) and ‘search’ is clicked, then the quick search will yield results as demonstrated in Fig. 8.

Fig. 8 (Quick search results in AusPat)

You can scroll down and choose any results that seem relevant to you from the search results obtained.

Structured Search

Structured search gives the user the scope to combine multiple fields across the AusPat database in order to narrow down to your most effective search results. Fig. 9 shows the interface for structured search at the AusPat and can be accessed from here.

Fig. 9: (Structured Search in AusPat)

In Fig. 9, the yellow encircled mark shows one of the twenty-five different options available to the user to conduct a structured search. The options available are as follows: Number, Invention Title, Applicant Name, Inventor Name, Agent Name, Application Status, Application Type, Publication, Priority Country, Priority Number, Priority Date, IPC Mark, Filing Date, Australian OPI Date, National Phase Entry Date, Expiry Date, Continuation/Renewal Fee, Paid To Date, Granting Date, Related Application Number, Pharmaceutical Name, Select (Under opposition/Convention/PCT), Abstract, Claims, Description and Full Specification.

In Fig. 9, the green encircled mark is the space where the user should put the relevant data against the search option chosen from the list above.

Fig. 10 shows how the different search options can be combined together to perform a structured search effectively.

Fig. 10 (Structured search in AusPat by the combination of various fields)

How to do a structured search in AusPat

Fig. 11 shows an example of a structured search conducted in the AusPat database.

Fig. 11 (example structure search in the AusPat)

Fig. 12 shows the search results obtained from the sample structured search of Fig. 11.

Fig. 12 (Search results of the sample Structured Search in AusPat)

Users can easily click on any relevant search result to obtain the details of the selected patent application.

Advanced Search

As the name suggests, the advanced patent search gives the most flexible and refined options to the users to conduct a patent search on the AusPat. But it is advisable that only experienced users do this form of search because of the advanced nature of the same. Both simple and complex search queries can be performed with this mode of search by utilizing the free text input box. Fig. 13 shows the interface for advanced search, and the same can be accessed from here.

Fig. 13 (Advanced Search in AusPat)

The available fields in Fig. 13 show the 28 search fields available to conduct an advanced patent search. An advanced patent search gives the users the following benefits:-

  • You can search by combining 28 fields at a time together.
  • Complex expressions of Boolean operators can be created.
  • Variants of the applicant and inventor’s names can be searched through the Name Selector (just click on the respective fields in purple highlight in Fig. 13 to open the Name Selector).
  • The ‘Publication Action’ Selector helps to find publications with various types of publication actions.
  • The user has the option of searching in one of the components like the abstract, description or claims, based on availability, or in full specification by ticking the ‘Include Full-Text Search’ check box for a published specification.
  • Three document kinds A, B and C (based on their kind codes) are available to the users for conducting a search on text from a published specification in one of the published document kinds by ticking the ‘Include Full-Text Search’ check box.

How to do an advanced search in AusPat

Let us suppose the user wants to search for all patent applications that have “human stem cell” in their titles (TI) and have their filing date (FD) between 1st January, 2001 till 31st January, 2023. Fig. 14 shows the search query for the same. The codes (such as FD, TI) are to be used in the search query and are easily available, as demonstrated by the interface in Fig. 13. When Fig. 14 is compared with Fig. 11, it becomes clear how advanced search gives the options to conduct the most refined search possible in AusPat by virtue of the free text input box available.

Fig. 14 (example advanced search in the AusPat)

Fig. 15 shows the search results for the sample advanced search that was conducted. Users can easily click on any relevant search result to obtain the details of the selected patent application.

Fig. 15 (search results of the sample Advanced Search in AusPat)


A patent search is a highly technical skill and takes time and practice to master. It is always advisable to conduct patent searches for professional reasons in paid databases for their premium features. But free databases such as AusPat are also not far behind. Over the years, AusPat has been made more user-friendly and reliable for conducting an Australian patent search. Any new beginner is advised to start with a quick search and then gradually try out and gain expertise in structured search and advanced search at the AusPat.


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