It’s easy to get so bogged down in the innovation side of the product development process that you forget about the importance of the fact finding phase. And a huge part of that phase that often goes ignored is research into existing patents. Sometimes that’s because a development team doesn’t have the resources to hire a patent attorney but it may simply be that they are so focused on the product that devoting any time to patent research seems impossible.
But ideally even when there’s no room in the budget for a professional search and time is at a premium, conducting a patent search should be seen as a crucial step in developing a product. If your idea is truly innovative it makes sense to protect it with a patent, and a patent search is the first step in that process. But if an early patent search reveals that your idea isn’t as fresh as you initially thought, you have plenty of time to change course.
Here are five more reasons that doing patent research early is the logical way to proceed:
1. Patent research is a process
It’s never been easier to conduct a patent search in house – as long as you give yourself plenty of time. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has made it possible to research patents for free online, but the process itself is anything but straightforward. The US patent database is enormous, with patents on file dating back to the 1700s, and the language used in patents is constantly changing. To help overcome these issues, the USPTO created a clear seven-step patent search process.
Note: If you’re tempted to speed things up by using Google Patent Search, know that the results it delivers are nowhere near as complete as those in the USPTO’s database. It’s best for preliminary research.
2. Ideas deserve protection
Acquiring a patent for your product discourages others from producing, selling, profiting from, or importing your invention for the duration of the patent period. While individuals or corporations may still attempt to profit from your original idea, your patent is what gives you the right to take legal action against infringers.
Doing a patent search early in product development means your team can move forward knowing they aren’t inadvertently duplicating someone else’s ideas. And if your search reveals that your area of innovation is well covered, you have a lot of information with which to reassess your strategy.
3. You’ll avoid wasted time
Even an abbreviated patent search can be valuable when you’re in the initial stages of product development. At worst, you find that your exact idea has already been patented and can switch gears before dumping a lot of money and time into developing a product that’s already out there. At best, you discover that your idea is truly innovative and can make the informed choice to move forward.
4. There’s a lot to learn in patents
Patents frequently contain information about products that isn’t published anywhere else. In fact, the European Patent Office has stated that nearly 80% of current technical knowledge is found in patent documents and nowhere else! Researching patents is one way to monitor the innovations happening in your industry and to gather information that may help you figure out where there’s room for future innovation.
5. Knowledge is power
Proving your idea is as innovative as it seems is a matter of holding it up against the existing knowledge to see how it stacks up. While the USPTO does not require that you do a patent search before filing a patent application because part of the filing fee includes a search by the Examiner, conducting a search early puts you on a firmer foundation when it comes to identifying the ‘inventive concept’ underlying your idea.
Why? Because patent research can help you figure out exactly how novel your innovative new idea really is and from there you’re well equipped to outline the unique value your product offers the world.
In an ideal product development climate, every team would begin with a patent search (and maybe even a provisional patent application) but we all know it’s never that easy. Doing your own patent search isn’t always a perfect substitute for professional guidance from a patent attorney, but in house research is a good place to start. Make it a part of your timeline early on to be sure that you don’t miss out on the benefits.