In the previous post – M – More about Patents – I described a three-step process for researching patents on USPTO.gov that should provide a solid list of existing patents that are similar to your invention. You will be rewarded for becoming a good patent researcher, but you must be willing to invest the time and due diligence required.
As I mentioned in J – Just Get Started with Your Product, there are lots of zigzags in the invention process. Periodically, it is important to step back, look at your current status, and reconsider what your next steps should be.
Generally your patent search will yield one of three possible outcomes:
1. There are very few patents that that are similar to your invention
2. There are a good number of patents with some similarity (perhaps 10 – 20)
3. There are lots of patents for products similar to yours (more than 20)
1 is a very rare occurrence. Either it means your search was not very thorough or that your product is so unique there is almost no prior art. I would suggest that you dig a little deeper to see what you might have missed and also consider having a patent search firm like Patent Search International (PSI) do a professional patent search for you. Their patent search will be quite thorough and, if it does not uncover much more prior art, that is great!
2 is likely the most common situation as is no cause for alarm. Just make sure you have some clear points of differentiation for each similar patent. Consider having PSI do a detailed search for you for further validation.
3 is a red flag. You should very seriously consider dropping the invention and perhaps taking up one of your other product ideas. There is no point is spending many thousands of dollars doggedly hoping to obtain a patent in a crowded field. Odds are you will either not get a patent allowed or, worse, you will get a very narrow patent allowed that has virtually no commercial value.
For either 1 or 2 above, it is now time to put your patent strategy together. The next post –
O – Okay, What is my Patent Strategy? will consider some ideas.