News Release

Inactive patents: Innovate more, search less

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Michigan Technological University

Patent Search Tool

image: Michigan Tech engineers used 3-D printing as a query to test their search engine for inactive patents. view more 

Credit: Michigan Tech, Sarah Bird

Many innovators and inventors feel they have squandered hours fruitlessly rifling through old patents on the US Patent and Trademark Office website, trying to figure out which are still active and how they may relate to developing technologies.

A team from Michigan Tech decided to take matters into their own hands and streamline the exploration process with an online search engine, which is now free for everyone to use at They tested how well the tool works and the journal Inventions published their results last week.

With today's fast-paced innovation, 20 years is a long time to wait--and it's how long a patent's registration lasts. However, nearly half of all registered patents are inactive before their life time ends, which is a potential goldmine for inventors and innovators, says Joshua Pearce, a materials science and electrical engineer at Michigan Tech. Pearce and his graduate student Yuenyong Nilsiam developed the patent search engine.

"Think about what a 20-year-old cell phone looks like--it simply doesn't make sense to use 20-year-old patents for a new innovation," Pearce says.

But many registered, inactive patents could be inspiring. So, the algorithm Pearce and Nilsiam wrote works by scraping the US Patent Database each week when the agency updates patent statuses. Every 3.5 years, 7.5 years and 11.5 years, patents come up for renewal, and if the dues are not paid and the paperwork remains unfiled, then the patent becomes inactive and enters the public domain.


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