Probably the most important step in invention validation is the patent research. The purpose of performing such study will not only bring to light some of the competitive products and what specifically they claim as innovative but, it also will determine if you can pursue your idea without infringing on an existing patent.
The entire patent system is incredibly cumbersome and intimidating to most people and frankly, the search tool is very difficult to understand so I wanted to help shed some light on how a patent search is normally performed.
Step One: Gather a detailed summary of what specifically your idea does and more importantly how it works (or the planned mechanism to the best of your ability).
This sometimes is easier said than done. I often have clients that will come to me with an invention idea but, they have not fully envisioned how it will work (meaning mechanically). They know what consumer problem or need it addresses but, as far as the detailed workings are concerned they have not gotten that far. In order to perform a good patent search you will need to have done some upfront work in conceptualization or at least a good sketch to show how your product will function.
Step Two: Start with a basic keyword search.
This is sometimes the easiest step to help narrow the search down. What I recommend is starting with an online search tool such as Google Patents (www.google.com/patents) and type in a 3-8 word phrase that best describes your product such as “Adjustable Hair Dryer”. Normally, this is will yield a long list of results based on the most accurate matches. You will normally only need the first couple of listings to see how the similar “prior art” or previously filed patents are categorized within the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Step Three: Identify the best fit Class and Sub-Class categories.
After finding some relevant matches you now can see how they have been categorized within the USPTO database. All patents are stored in a Class/Sub-Class style of organization. This means the classification for the product type and the below more detailed category. If you look at a patent you will see the “Current U.S. Classification” listed as shown below. The first number is the Class and the second is the Sub-Class. Using tools like Google Patents you can also click these numbers and you will be directed to a definition listing at the USPTO.gov website. Once you have made it to the definition page, there will be a red letter P that signifies all patents filled under this Class/SubClass. Click the P and you will then see all patents.
After looking through a number of matching patents I will normally save the PDF versions to my computer to more thoroughly review them later on.
Step Four: Dig deep to find flush out any overlapping prior art.
This is the part that is often best to have an expert assist you because the standard patent language is often very “lawyer-friendly”. However, once you have your set of patents to look through there is really only two areas of interest that need to be reviewed; Drawings and Claims. The drawings are a graphical representation of an embodiment of the invention and can help you in understanding the language that is written in the claims. The claims are the set of specific characteristics of the invention that are thought to be unique and therefore patentable. You should start with claim 1 and read through it slowly to see if your invention at all covers the same details. If not, proceed to the second claim. Claims can be written as independent or dependent (based on a previous claim). For this reason, if the primary claim appears to be different from yours then under most cases, the subsequent dependent claims can be skipped. You would continue this process with all relevant prior art until you have clearly identified all concerning claims. The other thing to note is that while there may a patent in the system, it doesn’t mean it is still valid. The Inventor must stay current with the required maintenance fees to keep the patent active in the system.
NOTE: while a patent search is important, there are still no guarantees that a Patent Examiner will approve your patent. The proposed invention must be truly novel and non-obvious through the eyes of the reviewer.
Step Five: Proceed on or back to the drawing board.
Don’t be discouraged if at first you find some existing patents that appear to be blocking you in your pursuit of product development. This just means you need to further refine the product design or add some unique functionality that is not already covered by the existing products. This would be a good time to consult a seasoned Industrial Designer or Product Development Consultant to help you get back on track.
I hope this has been informative to my readers and if you have any further questions, please submit a question in the comment section below and I will respond.
Best of luck to all you Innovators and Entrepreneurs.
If you are an Entreprenuer with a great product idea but, have not made any progress with the development, my company Odyssey Solutions can help. We offer a full turnkey suite of services to help turn that great idea of yours into a product. All while you retain all intellectual property. To see our full list of services click the link below.