A patentability search is often an overlooked but, important step in the patent process. A search will reveal whether your idea has been publicly disclosed or is already patented. Conducting a patentability search as a first step is a prudent use of startup funds over forging ahead with a patent application only to determine thousands of dollars later that your idea is not patentable.
You cannot be absolutely certain if your innovation is distinct without first conducting a patentability search. A search can help you discover the risks and opportunities surrounding your idea as well as determine how you may need to distinguish your idea over prior art.
In addition, a search will unveil competitors and the assets in their intellectual property (IP) portfolio, which can inform the direction of your IP strategy moving forward.
While anyone can search publicly available patent databases, searching on key words or simple concepts alone will not capture all prior art that could be relevant to your situation. Additionally, simply discovering references that are similar is insufficient to help you determine whether you should pursue a patent or not.
Be aware that until 18 months after filing, no one can “see” patent applications that are under review in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). However, patent search professionals are skilled in using different search methods to discover relevant prior art and overcome differences in definitions that are typically, used to describe an innovation.
Once relevant references are found, they must then be analyzed against your innovation. This can be tedious, but such analysis is important as it will help distinguish your invention over prior art, allowing you to capture the broadest scope of your own IP.
Bottom line, a thorough search in conjunction with a patentability opinion, is a valuable tool to increase awareness of market opportunities.
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