More than 40 million patent documents have been published, with almost a million new disclosures added each year. Each patent document has a unique identifying number and includes a detailed description of an invention, usually with drawings, and information about the inventor and applicant.
Competitive product information can be used in two ways: to design around a patent; to get a step ahead of competitors. You are entitled to commercialise anything not covered by the patent's claims. You may discover a significant area or use for a product that is not in fact covered by your competitor's patent. You may improve on the technology patented and patent your improvement. Your patent may then stop your competitor commercialising your improvement. It will also stop them making the technological improvement you have already patented.
Performing a search prior to applying is vital as it helps you to:
Each of these reasons focuses on distinct legal questions. Often different databases and other relevant sources need to be searched thoroughly. This is because it is not possible to give a 100 per cent guarantee that your patent will not breach one previously granted. In other words you are limiting your results by relying solely on a single database search for a patent.
Prior art searching
Prior art is information that has been made available to the public. A prior art search helps to determine whether or not it is worthwhile filing for a patent. Prior art that shows something is similar to your invention may restrict your ability to have your invention patented. In order for you to obtain a patent, your invention must be new and involve an inventive or innovative step. If a product similar to your invention has been patented or described in a printed publication anywhere in the world, it may affect the possibility of you gaining patent protection. The aim of a prior art search is to determine whether your invention is novel and inventive to people within that industry or field.
Search before introducing a new product or freedom-to-operate search
When introducing a new product you need to ask yourself whether a product, process or service may be considered to infringe any patent(s) owned by others.