Mechanical Engineering Searching Best Practices

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Mechanical Engineering is defined as the branch of engineering that encompasses the generation and application of heat and mechanical power and the design, production, and use of machines and tools. However, in the context of patent searching, Mechanical Engineering is even broader than that definition. An effective searcher must have a familiarity with broad engineering disciplines as he or she may encounter a wide range of possible search subjects. For example, searches in this discipline could range in from slot machines and wine glasses, to refrigeration systems and automotive engines.

Obstacles facing the Searcher

The major obstacle facing the mechanical engineering searcher is that the discipline of mechanical engineering is deep and wide-ranging in scope. It spans a very large number of classifications within US and IPC classes and subclasses, and encompasses technologies with a wide variety of applications.

A second obstacle is the cross-disciplinary nature of mechanical engineering. A large number of searches must be performed across disciplines, such as a combination mechanical and chemical invention (for example, searches could be related to Chemical Mechanical Polishing - Class 15, or Glass Manufacturing - Class 65), a mechanical and computer-related invention (for example, a slot machine, which could be found in Amusement Devices - Class 463), or mechanical and electrical-related invention (for example, an electrical control device for vehicle braking systems, which could be found in Motor Vehicles - Class 180).

Depending on the breadth of a particular search, some in this discipline are extremely open-ended, requiring searchers to sift through a large number of records in a short amount of time. Some specific types of inventions (i.e. car engines) are extremely well-developed and complex, so it often takes a great deal of time to analyze each reference for usefulness. In these analysis-heavy searches, analysis of pictures as related to written descriptions will be needed to ascertain the relevance of the art. Consequently, the ability to flip through the drawings and jump to the text and back to the drawings at a fast rate is important when performing this type of search. This need often becomes an obstacle for mechanical searchers, as most search engines do not offer these fast image flipping and image-to-text comparison capabilities.

In addition to complex topics which require picture-to-text comparisons, there are some very simple mechanical topics which focus on the design of a device. When performing a search on a particular design or configuration, it is often necessary to search by quickly reviewing a large volume of patent drawings. Fast image loading and flipping are essential to this type of search.

Searching Patent Documents

Mechanical Engineering searches typically require the searcher to be able to reference drawings in light of the written specification and also understand how crucial parts are interrelated to each other. Search tools allowing for rapid picture searching, as well as ease of comparing figures and text, are at a premium in this field. There are few freely available tools, but not of great use.

USPTO EAST is a powerful search tool and one well-suited to this type of searching. EAST combines rapid picture flipping as well as multiple panel viewing configurations which may be used to view different portions of the patent document simultaneously. This setup is effective for both picture-intensive searches and searches where pictures must be compared to the specification to ascertain their usefulness. Unfortunately, the EAST system is only available at the United States Patent and Trademark Headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia.

PatBase, QPAT, TotalPatent, Thomson Innovation and Google Patent Search are some examples of other useful commercial search tools for mechanical searching. All of these have drawing mosaic features (or present thumbnail images of multiple patent drawings) which can provide a way to quickly review patent figures for relevance, and provide solid text viewing interfaces. These search engines produce a relatively healthy medium between image and text searching.

Searching Non-Patent Literature

Searching non-patent literature can often be difficult for mechanical engineering searchers because most non-patent sources do not provide associated technical drawings. Non-patent sources are often limited to title and abstract viewing, and this type of record does not fully explain the structural elements of the subject matter.

Google and Google Scholar are often the best way to search related non-patent literature. Google and other internet search portals can be especially useful when investigating existing consumer products that may be related to the search subject matter. In addition, industrial catalogs and industrial product searches, such as GlobalSpec and ThomasNet, may be of use.

Non-patent review articles that describe the general nature or give an overview of a particular technology can be useful in this field. In this case, typical search tools of relevance may include Google Scholar, the Dialog suite of products, and Cambridge Scientific Abstracts (CSA), a set of data files produced by ProQuest. Google Scholar will search scholarly content available on the internet. Dialog has a vast array of journals and databases available. Cambridge Scientific has several relevant databases, including Aerospace and High Technology, Civil Engineering Abstracts, and Mechanical/Transportation Engineering.

"Meta-search" databases such as STN and Dialog may offer the most comprehensive coverage of non-patent literature sources outside of internet searching (i.e. Google), but these sources are often accessed via a pay-per-use model, and can be relatively expensive. Additionally, most databases available via these sources will lack technical drawings and full text specifications to help searchers understand the detailed workings of any disclosed devices.

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 mechanical engineering. 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 article.

  • The search engine used can greatly impact the effectiveness of a mechanical engineering search. If the search is geared totally toward picture searching, the rapid picture flipping offered by USPTO EAST is ideal. If the search is the type that is focused on the combination of pictures and text, or text only, Google Patent Search, PatBase, TotalPatent and Thomson Innovation all combine effective text searching and picture capabilities.
  • To gain knowledge about a particular technology within Mechanical Engineering, Wikipedia as well as How Stuff Works may be helpful.
  • The importance of the nature of the search and devising an appropriate strategy cannot be understated. If the search is more focused on the aesthetic qualities of an item (such as the particular design of an object), picture searching will be at a premium, and design classes may have to be searched to find patents focusing on the 'look' of the item rather than any functional significance.

Key Classification Areas

029 Metal Working
052 Static Structures (e.g., buildings)
081 Tools
123 Internal-Combustion Engines
137 Fluid Handling
165 Heat Exchange
180 Motor Vehicles
210 Liquid purification or separation
251 Valves and Valve Actuation
280 Land Vehicles
415 Rotary Kinetic Fluid Motors or Pumps
416 Fluid Reaction Surfaces (i.e., impellers)
417 Pumps
428 Stock Material or Miscellaneous Articles

B01D Separation/Filtration
F02B Internal Combustion Engines
F02C Turbine/Turbine Plants
F02F Engine Cylinders, Pistons, Casings
F04B Positive Displacement Pumps
F04D Non-positive Displacement Pumps
F16K Valves
F25B Heating/Refrigeration Systems

Japanese F-Terms
3G019 Ignition Plugs for Internal Combustion Engines
3G021 Other Ignition
3G025 Combustion Engine Pistons
3G066 Fuel Injection Equipment
3G059 Spark Plugs
3J031 Pulleys
3J050 Gearing for Conveying Rotary Motion to Endless Flexible Members
3D126 Crew-driving Wheeled Vehicle Propulsion and Transmission Devices
5E322 Cooling of Electric Apparatuses


For further reading, searchers should reference the corresponding best practices articles covering physical sciences and electrical engineering. Due to some overlap in the fields, the best practices and sources disclosed in those articles may also be applicable to Mechanical Engineering searches.


  1. entry for Mechanical Engineering. Accessed on March 26, 2009.

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