The most exciting situation occurs when a discovery is a pioneering breakthrough -- a first of its kind invention. Very few inventions are of that caliber, even though they may be commercially successful. Before applying for a patent an inventor should understand the existing technology and have some degree of confidence that an application for a patent can succeed. Just because a proposed product would be a new entry on the market, is not a sufficient reason to apply for a patent.
A search often proves that the inventor's product is not the first of its kind, but is nevertheless an improvement that is capable of receiving patent protection.
Inventors may sometimes do a preliminary patent search at a Patent and Trademark Depository Library. These facilities offer some limited computerized searching. The main disadvantage with Depository Libraries is they normally do not have computerized access to the text of patents. They also do not have hard copies of the patents sorted by class and subclass. The task of examining each of 100 patents, for example, by reeling through microfilm is extremely time consuming and discouraging.
A traditional search may be conducted by an experienced searcher in a facility such as the Patent Office search room, where printed copies of the patents are arranged by class and subclass. Once the appropriate classes and subclasses are identified, a searcher can very quickly scan through the hard copies of the patents and make a preliminary determination of relevance.
Computer searchable databases are a very interesting development. The full texts of patents going back to the 1970's has been available for some time. At this time, the drawings associated with the patents can also be examined on computer databases. Still, there are times when one needs to consider relatively old patents and these are not always found on these databases. Thus, one may want to fall back on the more traditional forms of searching.
Inventors often have a limited budget and cannot justify spending more on a search than the cost of obtaining a patent. Consequently, preliminary novelty searches are often somewhat incomplete. They are designed to give the inventor a limited but appropriate level of confidence in the outcome of the patent application. Therefore, the inventor must accept some uncertainty in the outcome. There is always another subclass area to be searched and indeed, the Patent Office itself may examine additional subclasses before deciding whether to grant a patent.
A good preexamination search will not only advise an inventor as to his chances of obtaining a patent, but will also give an insight into the field in general. This often gives rise to even further improvements.
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