Imagine you are about to come up with a major improvement to the computer chip or are doing pioneering research into 3D printing with metal. In that case it is definitely worthwhile to first do a patent search to find out what is already out there. Even if you have not invented anything it can be worthwhile to do a database search. In this blog, I will give you three reasons for investigating existing high-tech patents and I will explain where and how to do it.
1. It gives insight into what your competitors are doing.
A patent application is a lengthy and costly process. If your competitor is willing to invest in one, then they must have a good reason for doing so. They have every confidence in their invention. That machine learning software is innovative, that new car battery can outlast any of the ones already out there. Needless to say you are not allowed to copy anything, but by looking at your competitor's patents you can get an idea of what they are working on.
This will help you determine whether there are any developments that your company is not yet investing in, even though it would be worthwhile doing so. Or conversely: you will see that your competitor is moving in a certain direction that puts you at risk of infringing their patent. You will then know that you should steer clear of that development. Think of it as a benchmark that will help you make strategic decisions about the investments in your own innovations.
Tip: also take a look at the countries in which your competitors have filed their patent. The Netherlands is a relatively cheap country in which to file a patent. So if the application has only been filed in the Netherlands, this may mean that the invention has a lower priority. The patent then only serves to prevent someone else from filing a patent for the same invention, or to take advantage of the innovation box.
However, it could also concern a PCT application. In this case your competitor has opted for a procedure whereby they apply for a patent in many different countries at the same time. This could imply that your competitor feels that they could be sitting on a gold mine and therefore also wants to protect and exploit their invention outside the Netherlands. Especially if your competitor normally always applies for patents in the Netherlands and then suddenly decides to go for a more international option, for example.
2. You can earn money from patent searches
You can also use patent searches for a slightly less conventional way of patenting. Example: your main focus is on inventions in the field of robotics. In this case you can do a patent search in the field of robotics and see if you can find any problems that the innovation is likely to encounter based on your expertise in robotics. You then submit a patent to solve this problem. By doing so, you can cut your competitors off at the pass. Again, this is a somewhat unusual route, but for the pioneers among you it is a great way to earn money from your high-tech expertise.
3. It provides insight into developments and technical information about them.
Developments in the high-tech sector are taking place at a rapid pace. A patent is granted for a maximum period of 20 years. However, few patents will remain valid for this maximum period because many inventors will decide against paying the renewal fees for the entire period. The technology will be outdated and new solutions will have been invented before then. So use the database search to find out which developments in your field are unique enough to warrant a patent. A patent is not entered into the patent register until 18 months after filing so the databases contain somewhat outdated information, but they will nevertheless give you an idea of what is happening in your field. They will also give you a lot of technical information about particular developments. Perhaps this will inspire you to develop solutions based on what you have found.
What databases are there?
You can do patent searches yourself in, for example, Espacenet and Google Patents. Both sites have excellent options for searching by keywords in the abstract or in the full text. It does require a certain amount of perseverance because you will come across a lot of documents containing legal information. Think of it as a puzzle that ultimately gives you an overview of promising developments in your field.
How do you read a patent?
You now know why and where to look for patents. Now you just need to know how to read them. Patents are drafted by technical lawyers. This is often obvious from the text. However, there is a structure to a patent.
Start by reading the introduction. It states the problem. The invention must solve this problem. The problem is a good starting point for you to establish whether you have come across a patent that is of interest to your industry.
2. Explanation of the claims
This is usually followed by text explaining the claims. The claims themselves are at the very end of the document. This explanation is often a heavy and legal part. In order to protect the innovation as broadly as possible, this is also quite detailed. To stop a competitor from working around a claim with a simple adjustment, general terms are often used. For example, two parts are not connected with a screw, but with 'fasteners'. This is to ensure that the use of, for example, glue or a blind rivet is also covered by the claim.
3. Diagrammatic description
Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem in the form of a diagrammatic description in which the invention is explained with the aid of illustrations and concrete examples. To gain insight into what your competitor has developed I would therefore mainly focus on the diagrammatic description. You should note however that the diagrammatic description does not indicate what the competitor's patent rights are. Those rights are determined by the claims.
The claims indicate which patent rights the competitor wants to obtain or has obtained.
Go for it!
So, if you are an innovative high-tech company or have smart solutions to problems encountered by other inventors you should invest some time in database searches. At the very least you will learn from it and maybe even be inspired by it. So go for it!