Patent searching is an important research tool for undergraduate engineering students, yet it requires special topic knowledge to conduct successfully. Patent database websites have the ability to alleviate or add to the complexity of patent searching, depending on their usability. Prompted by the launch of the US Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Public Search (PPS) website in early 2022, the authors investigated the usability of PPS and Google Patents. The study's objective was to gain insights into the ways in which the websites of commonly-used patent databases support undergraduate students’ patent searching activities. The study examined students’ performance of typical tasks such as constructing search queries, filtering results, evaluating results, and interpreting classification and citation data. Data was collected via moderated in-person usability testing, following a think-aloud protocol. Usability issues were identified in both websites, though participants unanimously preferred Google Patents due to their familiarity with other Google products and the “cleaner” design of the search interface. Based on the study’s results, the authors offer recommendations for patent literacy instruction for undergraduate students.


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