There are three ways that I use patent research as an inventor. The research starts by studying patent databases and the patents they contain. What you look for in those patents determines the type of research done.
The three types of patent research are:
Patent infringement is probably the most common reason to research patents. In this case a patent search is done and patents are examined to determine if a product or invention infringes on the claims of another patent. This is done by examining similar patents and determining how those inventions work and comparing them to your concept.
Whenever I am working on a new product concept I want to know what has already been patented. Once similar patents are found I examine the claims to determine what each patent protects. If I feel like my idea infringes a particular patent I always check to see what the issue date was.
If a patent is more than 20 years old then the patent has expired and you are free to use the patented material from the invention. If the your idea infringes an existing patent that is still active you open yourself up to legal issues if you take your product to market.
If your product does infringe on another patent there are three choices:
In most cases when I am faced with this situation I change my idea or abandon the concept. It is not wise to proceed when you know there is a potential problem. It is always cheapest to cut an idea fast before you have too much invested.
The second form of research inventors should do is a patentablility search. Patentability is a much tougher standard to meet. Your idea can not infringe on other patents but must also meet other criteria for patenting. An invention must be:
Most invention ideas are in fact useful. Being non obvious and novel however are somewhat subjective measures that are the cause of most patent rejections. This is the main reason patentability searches are best handled by professionals.
The final way that I use patent research is to find new ideas. Patent databases represent the best solutions and the brightest ideas that mankind has to offer. Why not look at what other people have done to solve similar problems and then apply the solution to your situation? I have used this technique many times to enhance my initial ideas and to solve problems that at the time did not seem to have an answer.
Stand on the shoulders of giants when working on your ideas or do like Edison did and begin where the last man left off. If you do you can save yourself a lot of time and effort.
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