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In late 2006, Google released a new way for users to discover and find new patent information relevant to their own patent filings or those of their competitors. Those patents granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office can be located by using inventor names, filing dates, issued patent numbers or key words. Many people may use the service just for fun but patent databases like this may also help you if you are in the process of conducting your own patent search to find out if your new idea is patentable.
However, it's important to realize that using such a system may not uncover all the information necessary. When you decide to conduct a US patent search, you should investigate all the ways it's possible first, then decide which avenues are best for you. Since patent searches are so complicated and cover such a vast amount of information, many people employ the services of a patent attorney or patent agent. The advantage of hiring someone like this is that he or she is skilled in how to search, should be familiar with all the newer ways to search (including their benefits and possible drawbacks), and can sit down with you to formulate a search strategy. Never rely on just one type of patent searching; it's too easy to miss relevant information.
One of the most frustrating aspects of a patent search is that there is a likelihood you'll discover someone else has already patented your invention. However, this does not necessarily have to be the end of the road for your product or technology idea. Did you know that the reason Thomas Edison was able to invent his lightbulb was due, in part, because he purchased the patent rights of someone else?
Sometimes inventors patent technology and never do anything with it. This is because they either don't have the financial resources or they are busy working on other more lucrative ventures. So, if you discover in a patent database that someone else has patented your idea, you can consider purchasing the rights to theirs. Sometimes specific patent rights are advertised on websites or by other means as being for sale, too.
If you decide to negotiate buying someone else's patent rights, do not do so without the help of a patent lawyer. If you obtain the rights to the patent, make sure you know about all the maintenance fees involved. The other way you can use a patent search is to find a patent owner who is open to licensing his or her invention to you. If you find your idea has already been protected, that inventor might negotiate a way for your to commercialize and market the idea anyway.
There are a number of ways the US Patent and Trademark Office can help you search a patent database. You can go to Alexandria, Va. and visit the Patent Search Room or you can visit a designated US Patent and Trademark Depository Library, which are located around the country. You can also search for patents directly on its website at uspto.gov. A newer patent search option offered by the office is called the Patent Application Information Retrieval System (PAIR). You can find out about this unique way of accessing information about a patent at uspto.gov/ebc. At any given time, some patent applications are published and some are not. There you will also find toll free numbers and an email address to help with your search questions.
If you decide to visit a depository library, you can also obtain some technical help. Sometimes, even though searching in these ways is free, people hire patent attorneys or patent agents to help them search. This will cost money but may be worth it. If you miss certain types of key words in your search, you may miss large numbers of patents that could have relevance to your claim. Patent attorneys and agents have significant knowledge of the US patent classification systems so they can sometimes conduct a more thorough search than you can alone.
If you have a number of different inventions that are patented you are likely concerned about patent infringement. But what if the person or company that has filed patents related to yours is 2,000 miles away? You may not ever discover it. Conducting a patent search is one way to find this critical information. What if you think that the validity of a claimed invention is in question for some reason? A patent search may also uncover information you can use to support this opinion.
A thorough search of existing patents and published patent applications could also help you in the case that someone is accusing you of patent infringement. In a citation patent search, you can identify the number of times people cite your patents while filing for their own. Patent searches can help you determine if you should file for a foreign patent as well. In this case, because foreign patent law is so complex, you should strongly consider hiring a qualified patent attorney.
Patent searches can even lead to information on the subject of product liability. Many experienced inventors conduct patent searches before they even finish product development as this saves them time and money and allows them to focus on the most patentable ideas they have first. If you obtain professional help to conduct these various patent searches, make sure the person searching has significant experience conducting such searches in your particular field, technology or specialty.
The US Patent and Trademark Office has a unique system for obtaining information on patents called Patent Application Information Retrieval (PAIR) System. It may be especially useful in obtaining information about the patent activity of your competitors. If you know the patent number of a competitor's patent, you can use PAIR to get more detailed information about that patent than can be obtained by doing a traditional search on the patent office website.
The period of time that a person is trying to obtain a patent is called the prosecution. All of the related documentation sent to the patent office is accumlated in what is called a file wrapper. You can use this documentation to glean more insight for a patent infringement analysis. You can sometimes obtain information about related patents this way as well as biographical information about the patent and its entire file history.
Most people conduct patent searches to determine if someone has already patented their novel product or technology. But sophisticated types of patent searches also lead to other types of relevant information. One way that individuals and companies use patent searches is to create what is called patent flooding. To use this tactic, a company files many patents that overlap and only narrowly differentiate various aspects of a new product or process. When this is done, subsequent inventors have little room to expand on or move into the area. Thus, the initial patent filer has carved out a place to operate without as much potential for competition.
Sometimes patent flooding is used to force a competitor to have to cross-license a technology. Patent flooding is not as common in the US as it is in other countries. So, if you are seeking a foreign patent you should keep this in mind when you search foreign patent databases or consider filing for patent protection in another company.
PatentCafe.com, Inc. is a privately held company based in California that specializes in patent searching, among other services. In 2002, they launched a patent search and analysis software that uses artificial intelligence rather than traditional search technology. Attorneys as well as Fortune 500 companies use PatentCafe to obtain and protect their own or their clients' patent assets.
So, should you use services of this company? That isn't clear until you thoroughly investigate them and, if you use the web to find help on patent searching, you'll be bombarded with other companies and law firms like PatentCafe who will advertise their service as better than the others. The Internet may be one way to find the best search method for you, but use the same cautions you would when buying any other product or service. You can even find some companies and sites online that will let you search patent databases for free.
While these may be a good start, they should not be the only way you search for a patent. With patent numbers now in the tens of millions, it's too easy to miss a patent of interest to your particular filing. The worst case scenario if this happens is, you begin launching your product--investing large amounts of money in the process--only to discover you are infringing on another's patent. Patent search companies like PatentCafe.com also offer other similar products like the ability to monitor a competitor's patent activity, which could serve crucial to you as your begin to invent additional products or technologies.
There are a variety of ways you can search available databases to determine if your new invention is worthy of a patent. Two ways include the Scientific and Technical Information Center of the US Patent and Trademark Office and its Patent Search Room. The Scientific and Technical Information Center is located at 1C35 Madison West, 600 Dulany Street in Alexandria Va. It contains, for public use, more than 120,000 volumes and scientific and technical books in a variety of languages. It also houses 40+ million foreign patents on paper, CD-ROM, microfiche and microfilm, journals of patent organizations as well as science and technology periodicals. This center is open from 8am to 6pm Monday through Friday but not on federal holidays.
The Patent Search Room is a unique place where you can search and examine on computer workstations the US patents that have been granted since 1790. A variety of classification methods are used in this office as you can imagine how much information must be stored to cover this many patents. You can visit the Patent Search Room Monday through Friday, from 8am to 8pm, except on federal holidays. Its address is: Madison East, First Floor, 600 Dulany Street, Alexandra Va. Although these patent searches may assist you in filing your own patent, a visit to Va. may not be necessary to adequately conduct a patent search.
You should obtain more information from the US Patent and Trademark Office before you make such a trip. You should also obtain more information about what is available in the nearest Patent and Trademark Depository Library, which are also administered as ways to conduct a patent search.
One idea that has remained consistent since the inception of patent law is that patent information should be available to the public and easy to obtain. This does not mean, however, that conducting such a free patent search will be easy. The sheer number of issued patents makes finding what is called prior art a painstaking task. Two places where you can obtain patent information are the Scientific and Technical Information Center of the US Patent and Trademark Office and the Patent Search Room. Both are located in Alexandria, Va.
However, if you want to conduct a patent search closer to home, you can locate the library nearest you that has been designated as a Patent and Trademark Depository Library. At such a place, you can inspect and obtain copies of patents you find there. The scope of these Depository Libraries varies from only recently issued patents to all those granted back to 1790. At a Depository Library, you'll be able to obtain help from an employee who understands both the US Patent Classification System as well as patent documents and forms necessary for filing. Some copies of lists of original patents or of cross-referenced patents can also be ordered from the US Patent and Trademark Office. For more information on how to conduct a patent search, visit uspto.gov.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|