Medical Devices Searching Best Practices

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Medical devices are defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as an instrument, apparatus, implement, machine, contrivance, implant, in vitro reagent, or other similar or related article, including a component part, or accessory which is:

a) recognized in the official National Formulary, or the United States Pharmacopoeia, or any supplement to them,
b) intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions, or in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, in man or other animals, or
c) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals, and which does not achieve any of its primary intended purposes through chemical action within or on the body of man or other animals and which is not dependent upon being metabolized for the achievement of any of its primary intended purposes.

Obstacles Facing the Searcher

One of the largest obstacles facing searchers in the Medical Devices discipline is the convergence of both biology and advanced electronics into the field of Medical Devices. Recently, there have been an increasing number of medical devices with either biotechnology or chemical features (i.e., coated stents). Also, the industry seems to be moving toward robotic surgery, which brings aspects of electro-mechanics into this field.

For example, medical devices can range from simple tongue depressors and bedpans to complex programmable pacemakers with microchip technology and laser surgical devices. In addition, medical devices include in vitro diagnostic products, such as general purpose lab equipment, reagents, and test kits, which may include monoclonal antibody technology. Even some electronic radiation emitting products with medical applications meet the definition of a medical device. Examples include diagnostic ultrasound products, x-ray machines, and medical lasers.

Searching Patent Documents

Patent searching in the art of Medical Devices is often done with a combination of keyword text searching and image-based searching. Search tools that can perform these types of searches well are often preferred by searchers in this field.

EAST (Examiner Automated Search Tool), developed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office is a preferred search tool for patent searching in the field of Medical Devices. EAST allows complex Boolean queries and ultrafast image flipping. Unfortunately, it is only available to searchers at the USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. See the detailed article on EAST for more information on this tool.

For some types of searches, many Medical Devices searchers use Google Patent Search and appreciate its fast image loading, keyword highlighting on the published document image, and unique relevancy ranking, which ranks results according to a proprietary relevancy algorithm.

The INPADOC database provides extended patent family data and is available through the European Patent Office esp@cenet system. The INPADOC database can be useful for searching for related patents in multiple nations.

Searching Non-Patent Literature

For non-patent literature searching, Google Scholar is preferred by many Medical Devices searchers because of its easy-to-use interface and ability to search a large number of journals simultaneously. It is also the easiest source from which to retrieve articles in PDF (Portable Document Format). Additionally, Google Scholar’s "cited by" (citation indexing) has been cheered as a powerful feature similar to those previously available only in subscription-based tools such as Scopus and ISI Web of Science. is a search portal developed in collaboration by a number of science and technology societies, including the IEEE, SPIE, and ASME. searches the entire electronic libraries of these societies. It also searches government information sources such as the USPTO, EPO, and other U.S. government-supported research collections. Links are available to society websites for document purchase.

A widely used medical-specific literature database is MEDLINE. PubMed provides free access to MEDLINE. PubMed is a free resource that is developed and maintained by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) at the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). PubMed also provides links to many sites providing full text articles as well as links to related articles for a selected citation. Features such as automatic e-mailing of search updates, ability to save records, and filters for search results are available through My NCBI.

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 Medical Devices. 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 practice article.

  • If unsure which patent search tool to use, start with one that provides both powerful keyword searching and fast image searching.
  • Look up any medical terminology so that any appropriate synonyms can be searched as well. For example, in a search that involves a "shoulder blade", one should also search for "scapula." Abbreviations for chemical compounds should be included in the search as well (for example, Silicon Dioxide is abbreviated SiO2).
  • If the searcher desires clarification of terms or features, a good resource for quickly gaining knowledge of a Medical Devices related technology is Wikipedia.
  • For newer Medical Device arts, the patent literature will likely have fewer teachings than non-patent literature sources. Non-patent resources such as those available from IEEE, Inspec, Knovel, and Google Scholar can be especially useful when searching newer technologies, due to the relative lack of patent documentation available.
  • Keyword searching combined with relevancy ranking such as that in Google Patent Search or FreePatentsOnline, for example, can be valuable to the Medical Devices searcher when the goal of the search is to find a handful of highly relevant prior art, rather than an exhaustive list of every piece of prior art.

Key Classification Areas

128 Surgery
600 Surgery
601 Surgery: Kinesitherapy
602 Surgery: Split, brace or bandage
604 Surgery
606 Surgery
607 Surgery: Light, thermal and electrical application
623 Prosthesis (i.e. Artificial Body Members)
385 Optical Waveguides
361 Electrical Systems and Devices
250 Radiant Energy
... See links in the header of this table for full class definitions

IPC on WIPO / ECLA in espacenet
A61 Health
A61F Filters Implantable into Blood Vessels
A61L Methods or Apparatus for Sterilising Materials or Objects in General
... See links in the header of this table for full class definitions

Japanese F-Terms
4C117 Measurement Recorder for Diagnosis
4C077 External artificial organs
4C038 Measurement of the Respiration, Hearing Ability, Form, and Blood Characteristics of Living Organisms
4C061 Endoscopes
... See links in the header of this table for full class definitions


For further reading, searchers should reference the corresponding best practices articles covering chemical engineering and chemistry and pharmaceuticals. Due to some overlap in the fields, the best practices and sources disclosed in those articles may also be applicable to Medical Device searches.


  1. "Is the Product a Medical Device?" FDA website, Accessed March 25, 2009.

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