How to Search Design Patents

Innovation and creativity have woven the fabric of our world, giving rise to products and designs that captivate our senses and enhance our lives. If you’re a design enthusiast, inventor, or entrepreneur with a vision for a unique design, the journey begins with understanding the landscape of design patents. Design patents safeguard the ornamental aspects of creations, ensuring their exclusivity and uniqueness in the market.

Whether you’re exploring the uniqueness of your design concept or seeking inspiration from existing designs, embarking on a journey to search for design patents is a crucial step.

How to Search for Design Patents: A Step-by-Step Guide

Searching for design patents can be a valuable step when considering the uniqueness of your design or exploring existing designs in your field. Here are the best practices for searching design patents:

Step 1: Understand the Purpose 

Before you begin, it’s important to grasp why you’re conducting the search. Are you checking the uniqueness of your design, researching prior art, or seeking inspiration for your own design? This clarity will guide your search process.

Step 2: Access Patent Databases

Visit official patent databases like the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) or international databases like the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). These platforms house a comprehensive collection of design patents.

Step 3: Choose the Right Keywords

Identify keywords that describe the characteristics of your design. These could include terms related to the product’s function, shape, style, or components. Make a list of these keywords to guide your search.

Step 4: Navigate to Design Search Pages

On the selected patent database’s website, find the design patent search page. These platforms usually have a dedicated section for design patents.

Step 5: Refine Your Search

Enter the keywords you compiled earlier into the search fields. You can use various filters, such as date ranges, inventor names, or specific classifications, to narrow down the search results.

Step 6: Review Search Results

Browse through the search results to identify design patents that are similar to your design or relevant to your research. Pay attention to patent titles, images, and descriptions.

Step 7: Examine Patent Images

Design patents often include visual representations of the designs. Analyze the patent images to determine how closely they resemble your design and whether they may impact your own patent application.

Step 8: Read Patent Descriptions

Review the patent descriptions to understand the scope of protection granted to each design. This will help you assess the uniqueness of your design in comparison to existing patents.

Step 9: Take Notes

As you go through the search results, take notes on relevant design patents. Document their patent numbers, publication dates, and any other relevant details.

Step 10: Get Legal Assistance

If the search results leave you uncertain or if you require expert advice, it’s wise to reach out to a patent professional. Engaging with a patent attorney or agent can offer you valuable insights and expert guidance, helping you understand the potential implications for your design patent application. Legal professionals, such as those available through services like LegalZoom, are well-equipped to navigate the complexities of patent law and provide tailored assistance for your specific situation.

Conducting a thorough design patent search helps you gather valuable information about existing designs, make informed decisions about your design’s uniqueness, and enhance your design patent application process.

Why Is Design Patent Search Important?

Conducting a design patent search is crucial for several reasons:

1. Assessing Novelty

A design patent search helps you determine whether your design idea is truly unique and hasn’t already been patented. This step is essential to avoid wasting time, effort, and resources on pursuing a design that has already been protected by someone else.

2. Avoiding Infringement

By searching for existing design patents, you can identify designs that are similar or closely related to yours. This knowledge is vital to prevent unintentional infringement on someone else’s intellectual property rights.

3. Strengthening Your Patent Application

When you submit a design patent application, demonstrating the uniqueness of your design is crucial for approval. A comprehensive design patent search ensures you can confidently assert the originality of your design during the application process.

4. Inspiring Innovation

Design patent searches can serve as sources of inspiration. Exploring existing designs can spark creative ideas and help you refine and differentiate your own design concept.

5. Making Informed Decisions

Knowledge gained from a design patent search empowers you to make informed decisions about pursuing your design, altering certain aspects to enhance its distinctiveness, or even pivoting to a new design direction if necessary.

6. Avoiding Legal Issues

Creating a design that is too similar to an existing patented design can lead to legal disputes and potential legal action. A thorough design patent search minimizes the risk of legal conflicts down the line.

7. Maximizing Investment

Investing time and resources in a design that is already patented can lead to financial losses. A design patent search helps you allocate your resources wisely and focus on truly original concepts.

8. Building a Strong Portfolio

If you’re planning to create a portfolio of designs, conducting design patent searches ensures that each design is distinct and adds value to your intellectual property assets.

9. Enhancing Negotiations

If you plan to license or sell your design, a thorough design patent search provides you with valuable information when negotiating with potential buyers or licensees.

Search Criteria When Searching a Patent Database

When conducting a search in a patent database, utilizing effective search criteria is crucial to ensure comprehensive and accurate results. Here are essential search criteria to consider:

  • Keywords: Select keywords that accurately describe the features, elements, functions, or industries related to your design. Use specific terms that capture the essence of your search.
  • Classification Codes: Utilize classification codes that categorize patents based on their technology or industry. These codes help narrow down search results to patents within your specific field of interest.
  • Date Range: Limit the search to a specific date range to focus on recent patents or patents from a particular time period relevant to your search.
  • Inventor Names: If you are aware of specific inventors working in your field of interest, you can include their names as search criteria to find patents attributed to them.
  • Assignee Names: Include names of assignees (companies or individuals to whom patents are assigned) if you are looking for patents held by specific entities.
  • International Patents: If your search extends beyond a single country, consider using international patent classifications (IPC) or cooperative patent classifications (CPC) to cover patents across various jurisdictions.
  • Citations and References: Use citation data to find patents that have cited a specific patent you are interested in. Additionally, you can search for patents referenced by a particular patent.
  • Boolean Operators: Employ Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) to combine keywords, categories, or other search criteria. This allows you to create more complex and precise search queries.
  • Similarity Metrics: Some databases offer tools to measure the similarity between patents. This can help you identify patients with designs that closely resemble your concept.
  • Image Search: Some databases allow image-based searches. Uploading sketches, diagrams, or images related to your design can yield results that visually match your concept.
  • Expert Assistance: If you are unsure about selecting the right search criteria, consulting a patent professional can provide valuable insights and help refine your search strategy.


What are searchable patent databases?

Searchable patent databases are online platforms that host a vast collection of patent documents. These databases allow users to search and retrieve information about existing patents and patent applications.

What is Google Patent Search?

Google Patent Search is a free online tool that enables users to search and explore patents from around the world. It provides access to patent documents and visual representations of inventions.

What are international intellectual property offices?

International intellectual property offices are government agencies responsible for granting patents, trademarks, and other forms of intellectual property protection on an international level. Examples include WIPO and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

What is the European Patent Office (EPO)?

The European Patent Office (EPO) is an international organization responsible for granting European patents. It serves as a central authority for patent protection across multiple European countries.

Josh Fechter
Josh is the founder of The Product Company.