What is a patent search?

All patent applications and grantings end up in public databases. In many countries the procedures involved in the granting are even available online. That public availability is a cornerstone of the patent system. However, recently filed applications form the most important exception to this and are generally kept secret for 18 months after they were filed.

Patent documentation contains a wealth of information which you can benefit from in various ways. A search will help you find the right documentation. In the case of an innovative product it is important to establish if someone beat you to it and has already described the technology. If you want to enter the market with a product it is important to find out if you are not violating anyone else's rights by doing so. In both cases a good search can help you avoid nasty surprises and unnecessary costs.

Different types of searches

We distinguish four types of searches, which each have a specific purpose.

Patentability search

If you are considering applying for a patent for a technical innovation it is important to know what is already known. Not just on the market, but also in patent literature. Patent literature contains descriptions of lots of technologies, including technologies that never reached the market. The quality and effectiveness of your patent application will improve considerably if it is clear when the application is drawn up what makes your technology stand out. This will form the basis of your patent application.

Invalidity Search

A granted patent deserves respect. There might nevertheless still be some room for negotiation. This can be important when the patent forms an obstacle for the technological and commercial direction you have in mind. An invalidity search will clarify the validity and strength of a patent.

Freedom to Operate Search

Your ultimate aim is to enter the market with your technology, in the Netherlands but generally also beyond. This means that you have to take the patent rights of others into consideration. This type of search looks into potentially problematic rights. It is an intensive search for which we need to know exactly what you are going to offer so that we can compare your patent claims with those of others. Sometimes we fall back on relatively old patent publications and expired patents to demonstrate that everyone is already free to use a particular technological aspect.


Landscaping involves a study of the patent literature in a technological field. It shows what the patent landscape of that technology is like. Which players are active, what with and where? What new things are emerging? This information can be presented in various ways and can contribute to the perception of your innovation strategy, your patent strategy, the discovery of possible business partners or potential licensees.

Advantages of conducting a Search

  • You get an impression of the (im)possibilities of effectively protecting your technical innovation with a patent application.
  • You know how much freedom to operate you have with products that are similar to your competitors' products.
  • You find out what the chances are of you avoiding your competitors' rights or having these overturned.
  • You get a detailed picture of the Intellectual Property rights within your sector and an overview of the opportunities and threats this offers.

This is what EP&C can do for you

You can find patent documents using free online tools such as Espacenet or Google Patents and for design rights there is EUIPO's Designview database. However, it is not easy to perform a search. Patents are written as legal and technical documents. EP&C's patent attorneys are familiar with the various databases and search methods. We can use that knowledge and experience to formulate the search enquiry together with you and thus ensure that we get an effective result. You will ultimately receive an advice from us that has been written in plain language.

Costs of a search

The costs of conducting a search very much depend on the nature of the question. Please feel free to contact one of our patent attorneys for a free estimate of the costs involved in your particular case.