It is advisable to conduct a patent search at an early stage in the development of a new idea or invention. Often earlier patent applications, granted patents or utility models for the problem underlying the invention or a similar idea already exist. This can lead to a rethink in the product development process if potentially dangerous industrial property rights are found or additional ideas arise from the state of the art. However, a patent search is still useful at a later stage of your invention or project in order to check whether the concrete form of your invention is already known or even subject to legally binding third-party rights.
Basically, anyone can conduct a patent search themselves. This also makes sense, because you know your own invention and the associated state of the art, perhaps already your competitors, best yourself. For research purposes, there are various databases and different contact points that anyone can visit free of charge. Databases are provided, for example, by the German Patent and Trade Mark Office or the European Patent Office, and the patent information centres will help you with specific questions about your own searches. However, if you want to leave the patent search in professional hands, your patent attorneys like to.
A prior art search helps you to focus on the subject matter of your invention when drafting your patent application. With the prior art found during the search, your invention can be clearly delimited and the patent application can be directed directly to an object that is highly likely to be protectable. This avoids high expenses in the course of the application procedure and saves you valuable time. If, on the other hand, the search reveals that your prior art idea is already fully known and therefore not protectable, the search can save you a negative decision by the patent office and the costs of the application procedure.
It is advisable to consider a strategy before the actual patent search. A strategy can be a combination of a search for keywords about your invention and so-called patent classes of the IPC classification. It is important to search for the essential technical detail of your invention.
As far as possible, keywords should not be used in the patent search, because the specification of certain keywords always represents an arbitrary restriction of the search. If the number of hits necessitates the use of keywords, it is important to find suitable keywords that are as directly related as possible to your invention or technology. To do this, it is best to have another look at which technical components and which functional elements, or which technical process steps your technology contains. As you will probably notice, some terms and synonyms are suitable for the search. For this reason, we recommend that you search for related words or paraphrases in addition to the term that clearly describes your invention. If you work with IPC classes, you should avoid keywords that characterize the selected classes in order to avoid an overdefinition.
If you want to search for names, you should pay attention to the following: Company names are not always spelled the same. Sometimes abbreviations are spelled out, sometimes not. In addition, many companies have additions, which may be omitted when applying for industrial property rights. Occasionally errors creep in when translating company names. Does the company you are looking for also have subsidiaries? A patent may not be filed in the name of the parent company, but in the name of affiliated companies, licensors or even managing directors.
Even though there are some guidelines on how to conduct patent searches, the subject of patent searches is very complex and requires many technical competencies. There is no one right way to search for patents, the actual procedure varies from case to case. We as patent attorneys can offer to discuss your case specifically in a personal meeting and advise you in detail. If you would like an expert to do the patent search for you, we would be happy to do this for you. But even if you have already started your research but are at a loss, we will be happy to assist you at short notice and take over further research for you.
A patent attorney can get a faster and better overview here, thanks to his expertise in the complex field of patent searches. If you have further questions or would like detailed advice from our patent attorneys experienced in patent law, please feel free to contact us.
A patent search is always an attempt to obtain as complete an overview as possible of the state of the art. However, this is subject to certain limits. First of all, the databases of the patent offices have only a limited amount of data, including only patent literature. Relevant for your patent application, however, is any prior art, whether oral or written, or created by prior use, such as at trade fairs or exhibitions. In addition, a patent application remains sealed for 18 months after filing until disclosure takes place. Until this time, a patent application cannot be searched in the databases, so that in any case the search already has a gap of 18 months due to the system.
Finally, any search query by the selection of classes and keywords, restrictions with regard to the applicant’s name or a relevant period of time constitutes a limitation of the search. Language barriers can also play a role, since a search query for keywords is always a definition of IP rights in a particular language.
Nevertheless, the patent search is a recommended preliminary clarification which helps to improve the quality of your patent application and to avoid unnecessary costs in the procedure.