You have created a new product, design or process. Now what? It may be tempting to simply use and/or market your creative work. After all, you or your business spent a great deal of time constructing your innovation and now you can sit back and relax, right? Not quite. It is very important to secure legal protections for your invention before you begin using it publicly and/or profiting off of it. While it is understandably tempting to “skip” the legal side of inventing, failing to secure proper patent protections will leave you vulnerable to legal liabilities and leave your creative work vulnerable to infringement.
The patent application process is famously complex. The United States Patent and Trademark Office strictly enforces every detailed element of the process, so it is critically important to be thorough when compiling necessary research, gathering supporting documentation and filling out your patent application. An experienced intellectual property attorney is best placed to help you ensure that your application is complete and likely to be approved. One of the important steps your attorney will take before submitting your petition is initiating a patent search. Searching through existing domestic and international patents is critical because the USPTO will not issue a new patent for a product, process or design that has already been patented anywhere in the world.
When your attorney conducts a patent search, he or she will likely access several resources, including paid search databases that are too expensive for individual inventors and small businesses to invest in. These databases will allow your attorney to thoroughly track his or her search and analyze results. But before your attorney takes a final look at existing patents, it will likely be beneficial for you to take a first look. If you perform a less intensive patent search first, you may learn that your work mirrors a product, process or design that is already protected. If this occurs, you will be able to alter your design to make it both unique and eligible for a patent. There are two general ways that you can go about conducting this initial “first look” patent search for free or at a low cost.
Accessing Free Databases
Both the USPTO and Google maintain patent search databases that the public may access for free. Working with the Google patent search database may be preferable because it tends to be more user-friendly and is outfitted with virtually all of the information that the USPTO maintains on its platform. Before you begin your search, it may be helpful to outline key terms, technologies, literature and topics that you plan to look up. Conducting a patent search can be overwhelming and sifting through seemingly endless results can be enough to put anyone off of making this effort. But if you plan ahead, you can generally avoid becoming mired in less than relevant results. Determine what you most need to check and then limit your search when appropriate. If you are not stumbling upon truly similar prior art, you may be able to leave the remainder of your search for your attorney.
If you take notes on the specific patents you access in your results, you can show your work to your attorney. This may be especially helpful if you have questions about whether a specific existing patent may compromise the viability of your application. These reference notes may also help your attorney gain a better sense of what you view as the most fundamental elements of your invention.
Working with a Patent and Trademark Resource Center
If you are hesitant to undertake an initial patent search without assistance, you may be more comfortable reaching out to a Patent and Trademark Resource Center. There are numerous locations available, so it is possible that one is located closely enough to your home that you may be able to access it relatively easily. The USPTO designed these centers in order to assist the public in matters related to patent and trademark protections. They function as libraries boasting a host of relevant references, computers and trained staff who are generally more than happy to answer any questions you may have.
If you are interested in working with a PTRC, consider searching for locations on the USPTO’s website. If one is located near you, you can call that branch and inquire about the services it provides, its hours and any fees it may charge for search-related assistance.
Patent Search and Application Assistance Is Available
As you can see, the patent search process is fairly complex, time-consuming and is generally tedious. Taking a first look at possible sources of prior art can be genuinely helpful, as doing so will allow you to adjust your product, process or design if you come across a patent which clearly mirrors your current work. However, it is generally very important to have an experienced intellectual property attorney conduct your final patent search and assist you with your non-provisional patent application.
There are several reasons why obtaining this kind of legal support and guidance is so critical. If your application is not approved, your work will remain vulnerable to those who may seek to use it and/or profit off of it without your permission. Similarly, if you use and/or market your work without first securing legal protections, another individual or business may choose to sue you for infringement. If you do not patent your work, someone else might.
If you have created a new process, product or design, please consider connecting with the team at LawTrades today. Our marketplace of intellectual property attorneys have years of experience assisting both innovative businesses and individuals with successfully navigating the patent application process.