Computer and Information Sciences Searching Best Practices

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The field of Computer and Information Sciences encompasses a variety of technologies that share a common trait: the use of computers for gathering information, data processing, and data analysis. This can involve anything from developing a software program to the managing of data within a database management system.

Computer and information sciences is a rapidly evolving field that requires a searcher to consistently be aware of the newest developments in the field. It is quite common that, as a result of the pendency issues at the USPTO, patents are already dated or even obsolete in this field by the time they are issued.

As a starting point for a patent search in Computer and Information Sciences, it is generally thought that the search can be classified in one of five general categories: programming, computer components, computer hardware/architecture, databases and file management, and networking.

Obstacles facing the Searcher

Due to the fact that Computer and Information Sciences is such a rapidly evolving field, often times the technology disclosed in the patent literature will be nearly obsolete by the time it publishes. For this reason, searchers in the field often rely heavily on non-patent literature sources which usually feature technology that is more current than that published in patent documentation.

Compounding this is the fact that Computer and Information Sciences subject matter often overlaps with subject matter that is commonly defined as Electrical Communications technology. For example, subject matter describing wireless network security may have components in both areas. Therefore, it is important to identify the classes and subclasses related to Computer and Information Sciences and Electrical Communications areas.

Searching Patent Documents

Patent searching in the art of computer and information sciences consists of almost entirely reading the text of patents. The reason for this is that it is difficult to display a computing method or algorithm visually aside from a schematic representation such as a flowchart. Therefore, the searcher will almost always have to dive into the text of patents to gauge their relevance. Because of this, a search tool that is strong in combining keywords with a plurality of Boolean, proximity, and truncation operators is important to extract patents of interest. Many commercial patent search tools, as well as the free USPTO EAST system, will be equipped with appropriate features to handle this subject area.

Tools that offer a cross-search feature that enables the user to search both patent and non-patent sources simultaneously can be particularly valuable. In quickly developing arts such as computer and information sciences, this feature can help users ascertain the volume of useful art in the patent vs. non-patent collections. Traditionally, online command-line environments such as Dialog, Questel and STN were the type of tools that offered this capability. At least one new web-based tool, Thomson Innovation, also offers cross-searching capability.

Searching Non-Patent Literature

When searching non-patent literature in the Computer and Information Sciences, one useful resource is the Digital Library of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). Members of the public can search or browse the database of computing publications maintained by ACM including journals, magazines, conference proceedings, newsletters, and more. Access to the full-text articles and advanced search options is limited to ACM members.

Another valuable resource in this field is the IEEE Computer Society Digital Library. This database, produced by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, contains a large collection of magazines, transactions, proceedings, and letters in the field of Computer Science.

The Database of Software Technologies, produced by the Software Patent Institute (SPI) is another useful resource for software-related searches. This database, created in 1995, is available exclusively through the Prior Art Database. The SPI database contains documents or portions of documents that are not readily available in electronic form elsewhere. These documents include computer manuals, older textbooks, older journal articles, conference proceedings, computer science theses, and other "folklore" from the world of computing.

Another resource that is worth a look is the ZDNet White Paper Directory. It claims to be "the web's largest library of free technical IT white papers." These white papers cover topics such as data management, IT management, networking, communications, enterprise applications, storage, and security. Papers are free to access and are available for download in PDF format. However, users must sign up for a free ZDNet membership before they can access the white papers.

Google Scholar is preferred by many searchers in this field because of its easy to use interface and ability to search a large amount of journals simultaneously.

The prior art database is a place where hundreds of corporations publish technical disclosures including major players in the Computer and Information sciences industry such as IBM, Microsoft, Motorola, Siemens, and Sony among others. Non-patent literature standbys such as LexisNexis,, and ABI/INFORM (accessible through ProQuest, Dialog, and many universities) contain thousands of sources related to software products and systems and are often used by Computer and Information Sciences searchers.

Another notable source, Cambridge Scientific Abstracts (CSA) Illumina, includes the following abstract databases: Electronics and Communications, Computer and Information Systems, and Communication Abstracts that cover major areas including software, circuits, electronics, and telecommunication systems.

Specific Search Strategies

These search strategies are examples of specific best practices that can be applied during the course of a search in the area of Computer and Information Sciences. These are steps to be taken in addition to accepted search practices that apply to all searches. For a more general progression of search steps, please see the General Searching best practices article.

  • Computer and information sciences is a relatively 'young' field. Most technologies in the field began to develop in the 1980s and have made vast improvements to date. Because of this, a searcher usually only has to search within the last 30 years at most.
  • Searches in the computer and information sciences often include features that are believed to be inherent or very obvious modifications of a well known concept. When this occurs, a searcher should consider consulting a textbook. Textbooks are a great resource because, in many cases, they cite and explain the lower level details of a technology. It is often difficult to find this infromation in patents since patents do not generally include details that are assumed to be known to one of ordinary skill in the art. In addition to hard copies of text books, several online book sites exist including Google Book Search and NetLibrary as well as Safari Books Online, a source directed specifically to IT professionals. In addition, is a subscription-based service that offers full text searching of textbooks in various scientific disciplines.
  • Often an invention discloses software that performs a set of functions. A patent search uncovers hardware systems that perform identical functions to the invention’s software. Because software and hardware are functionally equivalent, a searcher should include these patents in their report. The situation can also be reversed with the invention disclosing a hardware solution and a search of the art uncovering software that performs similar functions.
  • Dictionaries specific to computer terminology are useful for getting a quick definition of a term that a searcher may need. A simple Google search for "computer dictionary" will return several websites dedicated to defining computer terms. Some of these sites include Computer Dictionary Online, Webopedia, and Foldoc

Key Classification Areas

The following US, IPC, and Japanese classes are central to searching in the field of Computer and Information sciences. A phone conversation with a USPTO Examiner is recommended after identifying some initial classes and subclasses. Due to technologies becoming increasingly multidisciplinary, this is not an exhaustive list; other classes may apply.


Class Description
380 Cryptography
704 Data Processing: Speech Signal Processing, Linguistics, Language Translation, and Audio Compression/Decompression
707 Data Processing: Database and File Management or Data Structures
709 Electrical Computers and Digital Processing Systems: Multicomputer Data Transferring
715 Data Processing: Presentation Processing Of Document, Operator Interface Processing, and Screen Saver Display Processing
717 Data Processing: Software Development, Installation, and Management
718 Electrical Computers and Digital Processing Systems: Virtual Machine Task or Process Management or Task Management/Control
719 Electrical Computers and Digital Processing Systems: Interprogram Communication or Interprocess Communication (IPC)
725 Interactive Video Distribution Systems
726 Information Security


Class Description
G06F Electric Digital Data Processing
G08B Signaling or Calling Systems; Order Telegraphs; Alarm Systems
H04L Transmission of Digital Information, e.g. Telegraphic Communication

Japanese F-Terms

Class Description
5B081 Devices for Executing Special Programs
5B042 Debugging and Monitoring
5B176 Stored Programs
5B076 Stored Program Control


For further reading, searchers should reference the corresponding best practices articles covering electrical engineering, electrical communications, and business methods. Due to some overlap in the fields, the best practices and sources disclosed in those articles may also be applicable to Computer and Information Sciences searches.


  1. IEEE Computer Society Digital Library. IEEE website, Accessed April 15, 2008.
  2. ACM Digital Library. ACM website, Accessed April 14, 2008.
  3. Software Patent Institute. SPI website, Accessed July 24, 2008.

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