MPEP 904.03
Conducting the Search

Ninth Edition of the MPEP, Revision 07.2022, Last Revised in February 2023

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904.03    Conducting the Search [R-07.2022]

It is a prerequisite to a speedy and just determination of the issues involved in the examination of an application that a thorough and complete search, commensurate with the limitations appearing in the most detailed claims in the case, be made in preparing the first action on the merits so that the second action on the merits can be made final or the application allowed with no further searching other than to update the original search. It is normally not enough that references be selected to meet only the terms of the claims alone, especially if only broad claims are presented; but the search should, insofar as possible, also cover all subject matter which the examiner reasonably anticipates might be incorporated into applicant’s amendment. Applicants can facilitate a thorough and complete search by including, at the time of filing, claims varying from the broadest to which they believe they are entitled to the most detailed that they would be willing to accept.

In doing a thorough and complete search, the examiner should find and cite references that, while not needed for rejecting the claims, would be useful for forestalling the presentation of claims to other disclosed subject matter regarded by applicant as their invention, by showing that this other subject matter is old or obvious.

In selecting the references to be used in rejecting the claims, the examiner should carefully compare the references with one another and with the applicant’s disclosure to avoid an unnecessary number of rejections over similar references. The examiner is not called upon to cite all references that may be available, but only the "best." (See 37 CFR 1.104(c).) Multiplying references, any one of which is as good as, but no better than, the others, adds to the burden and cost of prosecution and should therefore be avoided. The examiner must fully consider all the prior art references cited in the application, including those cited by the applicant in a properly submitted Information Disclosure Statement.

The best reference should always be the one used in rejecting the claims. Sometimes the best reference will have a publication date less than a year prior to the application filing date, hence it will be open to being overcome under 37 CFR 1.130 or 1.131. In such circumstances, if a second reference exists which cannot be so overcome and which, though inferior, is an adequate basis for rejection, the claims should be additionally rejected thereon.

In all references considered, including NPL, foreign patents, and domestic patents, the examiner should study the specification or description sufficiently to determine the full value of the reference disclosure relative to the claimed or claimable subject matter.