• July 2019
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Step-by-Step Guide to Conducting a Patent Search

young lawyer on her laptop

When inventors and innovative businesses create new products, processes and designs, it is important for these unique ideas to become protected under the law. Unlike artistic forms of expression, new manufactured products, processes and designs are do not become subject to certain legal intellectual property safeguards automatically. In order to protect inventions from infringement, individuals and businesses alike must formally apply for legal protection via the non-provisional patent application process.

Once granted, patent protections allow individuals and businesses the exclusive right to use and/or profit from their creations. This permission may be sold or transferred with the patent holder’s consent. When other individuals or businesses infringe upon these legal boundaries, the patent holder’s intellectual property rights may be enforced in court. As patents may be uniquely valuable assets, the ability to successfully obtain and enforce them is critical for many innovators.

Before a patent application may be successfully submitted and approved, it is important to conduct a thorough search of existing patents. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office only grants protections to applicants whose work neither mirrors nor fundamentally mimics other patented inventions. Once a patent search is successfully conducted, an applicant will better understand whether the work being submitted is truly novel or needs to be altered because it too closely resembles other patented work.

 

Determining Which Kind of Patent You Need to Search For

The patent search process is time-intensive and relatively tedious. It is partially for this reason that it is helpful for inventors to work with experienced intellectual property attorneys when navigating the patent application process. Not only does an attorney’s assistance help to ensure that the process is completed thoroughly and accurately, it helps to alleviate some of the administrative burdens associated with it. But before an attorney can conduct a proper patent search, he or she must understand what kind of patent you are applying for.

The USPTO grants three primary kinds of patents. First, plant patents correspond to new and unique asexually reproducing plant species and hybrids. Second, design patents are appropriate for new designs of manufactured products and processes. It should be noted that these designs cannot simply be ornamental and easily removable. They must be integral to the design of the product or process. Finally, utility patents are granted to new products and processes that are novel, non-obvious, useful and reproducible. Nine out of every 10 patents issued by the USPTO are utility patents, so if you have any doubt as to which protection you will need to apply for, chances are that you will be petitioning for a utility patent.

 

Beginning Your Patent Search

There are numerous ways to conduct a patent search. Your attorney will likely use a variety of different methods in order to better ensure that the search results are complete. The most intuitive way to begin a patent search is to access the full-text database maintained by the USPTO. As this government agency is tasked with granting patent protections, it makes sense that its records are arguably the most complete listing of existing patent information available. The full-text database only contains complete patent information dating back to the mid-1970s. As a result, your attorney may need to access some of the USPTO’s image files on patents issued from the 1700s through the 1970s, depending on whether it is possible that your product, process, plant or design may mirror a work patented during that time period.

Your attorney may also access the free patent search feature provided by Google. This platform features basically all of the information stored by the USPTO in a more user-friendly format. It is generally easier to search, although your attorney likely has enough experience with the USPTO that he or she may not need to take advantage of Google’s platform. It is also possible that you attorney will use a private patent service to conduct portions of your search, as such services tend to make nuanced research requests easier to track and analyze.

Finally, your attorney may opt to search for patents internationally, if it is at all likely that your creation could infringe upon a patent secured elsewhere. Depending on the nature of your invention, your attorney may also suggest conducting a clearance search. The USPTO only publishes information contained in non-provisional patent applications 18 months after they are filed. This means that information regarding pending patent applications and patents secured very recently will not be available during a standard patent search. A clearance search will both help to access this information and better ensure that your invention is not likely to trigger an infringement lawsuit once your patent has been secured.

It is worth noting that it is possible to conduct a patent search without the guidance of an experienced intellectual property attorney. However, doing so is generally not advisable, simply because the process is so complex and so much rides on the successful approval of patent applications.

 

Intellectual Property Guidance Is Available

From demonstrating that your creative work is indeed the result of your personal efforts to conducting a thorough search of existing American and international patents, the patent application process can be burdensome. Our team of intellectual property attorneys is here to represent your interests and to make the intellectual property process as painless and productive as possible.