Be In The Know Using Patent Databases

by: Natalie Giroux

He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot, will be victorious – Sun Tzu

Patent databases are excellent free sources of information on whether there are existing technologies related to your new product plans. As you initiate the design phase of a project, researching these databases can provide very useful data points. Patent databases offer huge insight into existing technologies and also provide essential information on who owns a technology and who the major players are in a particular field.

There are many reasons you should systematically use patent databases as a source of technical information:

  • Gain competitive intelligence – Although the patents are published 18 months after their initial filing, the technologies and innovations that your competitors cover in patent submissions provide very useful insights into their R&D direction and the possible content of upcoming product releases. Maintaining a patent landscape on each of your key competitors and possible partners can help your business development activities by providing intelligence on their plans.
  • Ensure freedom to operate – Searching patent databases also provides a good assessment of your freedom to operate by ensuring that existing patents or published applications do not already cover the key differentiators in your products. Some proof of freedom to operate is generally a requirement during due diligence performed by investors or potential acquirers. If there is doubt over the ability to operate freely with the current product design there are some options:
    • Change the design to get around the patent. Note that it is much easier to alter the design at the conception phase than when you are into high volume sales!
    • Purchase the patent to have exclusive rights
    • Negotiate a license or cross-license
  • Monitor the activity in your field – By maintaining a patent landscape of your key technologies, you can identify new applications that could interfere with your own pending application and file oppositions or re-examination requests. This process can prevent the granting of invalid patents that could later haunt you.
  • Find technologies and solutions – patent database searches can reveal improved solutions for your technical problems and thus reduce development times. For example, there is a wealth of patented innovations created by universities, which are the fruit of in-depth focused research, available to license, often at low cost.
  • Assess patentability of your ideas – often it is tempting to file for patent protection without properly determining whether there is any prior art. Would you not prefer to know the chances of obtaining a patent before committing to the long term cost of drafting and prosecuting the application?

It is true that the first search may be a daunting and time consuming task because of the amount of information that will be revealed. But by selecting the right filters, and carefully organizing and parsing the information, subsequent quarterly updates will become a simple task that will yield significant rewards in competitive intelligence and improvements to your products.

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