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Performing a Basic Prior Art Search

Guidelines for Patentability
A technology may be patented if the invention is new, useful and non-obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art.

The "prior art" (i.e., the body of knowledge existing prior to the invention) helps determine whether or not the invention is "new" and "non-obvious." Thus, it is important to know and understand the prior art so that one can make distinctions between the prior art (what is already known) and the invention (what is new).

Performing a Basic Prior Art Search
Inventors can perform basic prior art searchers to see what knowledge (usually in the form of patents) already exist in the invention's scientific area. A basic patent search involves the following steps:

  1. Accessing PatentScout. PatentScout,, is a patent search interface designed by Innography. Anyone with a Stanford email address can use it to access this database. The site allows you to do a keyword search or a semantic search and to filter the results by patent office, filing status, active/expired and date. You can also create session-specific folders with results and download PDFs.
  2. Accessing a publicly available patent database. The Delphion patent database is user-friendly and online at There you can view the first pages of patents. For full text views please email OTL; we can download PDF versions of patents. The USPTO website is another reasonably user-friendly patent database at
  3. Performing a search based on keywords that would logically be within a summary statement of a patent. If you use Delphion, just click on "Advanced Search" and insert your first keyword or combination of keywords. Then check the boxes for every type of patent (since you're trying to find all existing patents that contain that keyword). Repeat this step for various combinations of keywords until you think you've found the relevant existing patents and patent applications.
  4. Skimming patents and patent applications that you found. By skimming the first pages of each patent or patent application you can eliminate a majority of the records from your search.
  5. Reading the patent and patent applications in detail. Once you've re-read the patent applications that seem relevant to your technology, feel free to contact OTL at 650-723-0651 or to discuss your findings with a member of our licensing staff or to gain access to PDF versions of the key patents that your search uncovered.