PAIR, or Patent Application Retrieval System, is the USPTO’s viewable electronic patent database system containing searchable full-text literature and image files. PAIR is a free system that interested parties like inventors and patent attorneys use to check the status of submitted patent applications. You can also use this database to view correspondence documents between the applicant and their patent examiner, in addition to patent histories and file wrappers.
There are two versions of PAIR: Public and Private. Public PAIR is available to anyone who files a patent and provides access to all issued and published patent applications dating back to 2000. (System data may exist for previous patents in snippets or not at all. The USPTO continues to compile new data.)
Private PAIR is used to access an applicant’s specific patent request and view its status in real-time. While the USPTO will correspond with an applicant through other means (such as email or mail) Private PAIR is the easiest and fastest way to check a patent’s status.
Private PAIR is available only to those who have filed and will require USPTO permission to access. As a part of the filing process, the USPTO will issue several pieces of identifying data, like a customer number, that will help keep your Private PAIR searches secure. Registering for Private PAIR can take several weeks and requires the applicant to complete several steps. When registering, the USPTO’s Key Public Infrastructure will issue you:
- An associated customer number
- A digital certificate
- An authorization number
- A reference number
The USPTO can generate logins for more than one party so that different entities associated with a patent can log on. The most common are inventors and licensed patent attorneys. If it’s the latter, they will have had to register with the USPTO, which includes passing an exam, in addition to meeting other qualifications.
What can you view?
Public PAIR allows access to public applications including patents, published applications, and applications to which a patented or published application claims priority. Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications that have not been published by WIPO and applications that are unreleased by the USPTO Licensing and Review Board will not be viewable. Chapter 2 patent prosecution history and document images are not viewable in Public PAIR.
Private PAIR offers access to any applications you associate with your customer number, including pending and non-published PCT applications. To date, applications that have not been released by the USPTO Licensing and Review Board or have not been published by the WIPO will be unavailable.