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Reviewed by Alec Griffiths, IP Manager | 1 February 2024.

Open Source Tools vs Paid Software – what’s available and why use them for patent searches?

Open Source Tools vs Paid Software – what’s available and why use them for patent searches?

Sifting through patent data can feel like a ‘needle in haystack’ type exercise, especially if you do not have any previous experience in patent searching. So, how do I start? What tools are best for the job? Should I buy a licence to specialist patent software or rely on open source databases? Well, that all depends on what you are trying to achieve, and this article will help guide you through answering those questions.

Simple patent searches

If you’re looking to see whether a specific company has any patent protection in a particular jurisdiction or technology area, or you are given a patent number and would like to see what that particular patent describes? Good news, there are a number of free open-source patent databases at your disposal, including Google Patents and Espacenet.

Google Patents

Google Patents was launched by Google back in 2006, it is one of the most popular open source platforms with over 120 million patent documents from over 100 patent offices around the world, and it continues to expand. A useful addition is the capability to search through non-patent literature such as academic publications via its integration with Google Scholar, which may come in handy if you want to keep tabs with a competitors’ R&D efforts or read up on a particular field of technology whilst sifting through their patents.

Additionally, Google Patents will allow you to search for a specific company or inventor through its ‘Assignee’ and ‘Inventor’ search fields on the advanced search tab, a useful tool for taking a helicopter view of what patents a company may have. The primary advantage that Google Patents has over competing patent search tools is its user-friendly interface, it’s pretty intuitive and a great tool to use if you’re a beginner or an experienced searcher looking to do a simple patent search.


Espacenet, launched in 1998 and managed by the European Patent Office (EPO), is also a very popular open source patent database and, similar to Google Patents, provides free access to over 120 million patent documents worldwide. In addition, as Espacenet is managed by the EPO, it is the best data source for European patents and patent applications as it provides the most up-to-date information regarding the legal status of patents and patent applications examined by the EPO.

Furthermore, it has one of the best machine translation systems out there, allowing you to translate a single patent document into 31 different languages! which may prove useful if you’re looking to decipher foreign patent documents. However, due to its user interface, it is more suitable for somebody who may have worked with patent data before as it is not as intuitive as Google Patents.

Professional patent searches for more complex requirements

Perhaps during your R&D, you have stumbled upon a solution that is the next best thing and you want to seek patent protection. To do that, you must ensure that your invention is novel and inventive (for more info on how to obtain a patent in the UK please see my knowledge hub post here).

In the UK, as for most jurisdictions, an invention is deemed novel if it has not been made publicly available, either orally or in writing, before the filing date of your patent application – should you choose to go down that route. It is good practice to do your own assessment of the ‘state of the art’ before filing any patent application so you can decide whether you have a chance at getting a patent granted by your local Patent Office.

This type of patent search is known as a ‘novelty search’ and requires a degree of experience in handling and interpreting patent data, given the complexity of the dataset. And this kind of search is very difficult to do using open source patent databases due to the following reasons (list is not exhaustive):

  • UI makes it difficult to sift through patents quickly.
  • Lacks the ability to generate analytical graphs at the click of a button.
  • Most open source databases lack the capability to select interesting documents and save them.
  • Difficult to construct complex search strings.
  • No export to excel function for modified datasets.

Therefore, it is recommended that more ‘complex’ tasks such as novelty searching, infringement/freedom to operate searches, or IP due diligence studies are best completed using specialist patent searching software to ensure quicker and more accurate results.

Not sure where to start with your patent searches?

Many UK businesses don’t think that their intellectual property (IP) is patentable, or they think that the patenting process is too expensive and takes too long to be worthwhile.

But you shouldn’t be intimidated by the legal and academic jargon surrounding IP. We offer a range of IP services that can help you cut through the noise. Services to reveal insights and allow the value of IP to become more accessible to you and your business.

To answer the question “Does my business have something worth patenting?” our IP Harvest service is a good place to start. Or contact Source Advisors for more information.

From the Knowledge hub

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