Developments in the field of hydrogen are taking place one after the other in rapid succession. You may have created an important invention in the field of hydrogen yourself. An invention for which you will eventually want to file a patent application. If this is the case, make sure you do not forget to conduct a search in various patent databases during the development phase. This will give you insight into what is already out there and whether your innovation adds anything to this.
Hydrogen plays an important role in relation to us being able to achieve the climate agreement objectives. In the Netherlands, for example, there should be 300,000 hydrogen-powered cars on the road by 2030 and 75,000 tons of hydrogen must be produced from water by 2025. This means that a great deal of innovation is taking place in the production, storage and distribution of hydrogen. And whenever people are innovating, they will file for patents. This means that it is worthwhile searching for innovations that are already protected by patents.
Why search databases?
Above all, a database search will give you an idea of the innovations that are already out there. This will help you determine the likelihood of you being granted a patent on your innovation. Is your innovation viable? And does your invention possibly infringe another patent because the idea you have come up with already exists? With the results of your own search, you will be able to provide clearer instructions and provide more complete information to the patent attorney who can help you with patent cases.
How do I conduct a search?
Conducting a search in a database does not have to be complicated, but it is good to know what to look for. Use these tips:
Tip 1: Formulate a problem definition
You should first of all ask yourself what it is you are looking for and why. For example: you are developing a new catalytic material for the electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen. You are looking for information on what your competitors are doing and the latest developments in the market. This will give you an idea of your own position and prevents you from developing something that already exists. You could use search terms like hydrogen, catalyst and electrolysis.
Tip 2: Alternate between broad and narrow searches
You can make the search terms as broad and as narrow as you like, depending on the problem definition. Play around with this to see what results you get. Bear in mind that you can also use AND, OR and NOT to make the search results more specific. Words that are related to catalysis, for example, can be broken down so that you find documents with the word catalyst as well as catalysis.
Tip 3: Hang in there!
It takes some perseverance but it is not necessary to read all of the documents you find in full. Often, only a limited number of documents are really interesting and you can usually see fairly quickly whether a document is relevant or not. But by immersing yourself in what is going on in your particular field of interest, you will learn a great deal about the hydrogen market and the opportunities you may or may not have within it.
If you keep coming across the same documents in all the different ways of searching you can be sure that you have conducted a good search.
A practical example
Within hydrogen, we conducted a brief search on electrolysis and hydrogen and catalyst. This search returned 420 results. By working with patent classifications, you can then further narrow down the search if necessary. There are many classifications. For example, there is a separate class for electrolytic production of hydrogen, C25B1/02. This allows you to narrow down your search and get a better result.
What databases are there?
There are various free databases in which you can conduct your search. Examples include Espacenet, the European Patent Office’s patent database, and Google Patents. In databases like these, you can work with keywords in the title or document abstract. It is also possible to search within the full text of the patent document using keywords. You can also search by the name of the applicant, inventor or publication number.
Do it yourself or have someone else do it for you?
We always advise our clients to conduct their own search first as this will make them aware of innovations in their particular field and developments taking place in their market. For us, it is also really nice to talk with clients who are familiar with the latest developments.
As patent attorneys, we will nevertheless conduct our own search afterwards. There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, we are experienced in this. We know what to look for. Patents are legal documents and it takes specific knowledge to understand them. On top of that, there are a relatively high number of Asian players, particularly in hydrogen. The average Dutch person does not speak Chinese or Korean very well. By using the translate button you can get a rough idea of what the documents are all about but you need to bear in mind that the texts are just machine translations. Your patent attorney is used to reading these translations and knows exactly where the challenges lie.
In short: it is always very useful to conduct a search yourself. But to conduct a really thorough one you also need experience. So you should definitely conduct your own search for innovations in the field of hydrogen, but also consult a patent attorney in good time.