In-depth interviews were carried out in 23 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to explore issues regarding their use or non-use of the patent system and patent information. A semi-structured interview approach was adopted. Among the issues explored were: (i) the level of research and development and propensity to innovate, (ii) patenting behaviour and appropriability, (iii) the way patent information is obtained and expectations of patent information, (iv) the reasons for patent information being used and (v) the impact of the Internet on these issues. A classification to differentiate segments of the SME patent information market is proposed. The three segments are called ‘inept’ or ‘irrelevant’, ‘unaware’ and ‘aware’. The latter group can be further broken down into six types: avoiders, off loaders, defenders, learners, checkers and professionals. The paper concludes that approaches to SMEs’ use of patent information hitherto has been too simplistic. A strategy for increasing patent use information among the different segments is recommended.