AOP Community Resources

Search Strategy Overview


A successful search strategy takes your background knowledge of the technology and applies it to the databases and resources available all around the world.

Once you complete your background research, you attack the goal of finding proof of the Study technology before a specific date.

More importantly, you need to find the piece of literature that matches as many technical elements as possible.

Scope of Technology

While good references can sometimes be easy to find, all searches need a solid plan to find the very best results.  This plan is based on the scope of the search, and the search terms that you generate based on that scope. As an example, consider US Patent 1,550,618, which covers a type of coffee mug. The opening paragraph of a US patent typically gives a clue to the invention’s subject matter:

  • “One object of my invention is to make a cup without a handle and to provide means whereby a metallic handle can be secured to the cup.”

The opening paragraph of the ‘618 patent tells the Researcher that the search should be limited to documents that describe cups, in particular those that can be used with or without a handle. Going further in the identification of the technology scope, the claims of the patent must also be inspected closely. Using the same example, the first claim provides the most important description of the unique aspects of the invention:

  • “The combination of a cup having an annular groove therein; and a detachable handle for said cup made of a continuous ring of resilient wire…”

As shown above, the details of the first claim are very specific in that it requires the researcher to look for documents that describe exactly how the cup is designed and how the handle is constructed.  The remaining claims provide additional detail about the shape, size, and composition of these two features.  In general, the best references will include all of these details in a single example.  However, a Study may place more importance in one of these key features, for example the shape of the handle:

  • “…the hand hold consisting of two parallel sections of wire bent at right angles to the encircling portion…”
Broad Search

For the first round of research, the scope provided by the opening paragraph may provide adequate guidance. A broad search will uncover a wide array of possible references that may be found for the identified technology. Using the ‘618 patent as an example, broad research only requires a search for all types of cups that can work both with and without a handle. The references found may include handles of any shape or method of attachment. They may also capture references looking at any shape or size cup.

Broad research typically requires only a few keywords. In the ‘618 example, potential keywords could include “cup,” “handle,” and “metallic.” This search strategy works best when a Researcher is just initiating his/her search. Aside from the possibility of capturing good references, it lets the Researcher see the overall picture of the technology. It also helps the Researcher identify additional keywords as well as competing companies in the technology area. The disadvantage of a broad search is that it will yield thousands of results which may not actually be useful as submissions.

Narrow Search

A narrow search is a targeted search and can be achieved by adding more keywords in the search field. This strategy works best once you have a strong working knowledge of the technology.  This step should utilize the keywords and elements in the claims section that make this technology different from anything that you found in the broad search.

Using the ‘618 patent as an example, a Researcher may wish to target references describing the exact shape of the handle.  So, in addition to cups that work with and without a handle, the Researcher may want to add the keywords “right angle” and “parallel” to capture references that include a handle of the same size and shape.

When conducting a search, it is important to track the keywords that you have used because you may need to test a wide variety of combinations.  This is particularly useful when the Research Requirements are not only long but are also dotted with many technical terms that are not quite familiar to the Researcher.   As a result, you may need to run multiple instances of Broad and Narrow searches as you move between technologies and industries within the Study.