A patent search is a search of existing patents and other publicly available documents to locate the closest existing things to your invention. A patent application is examined by the patent office and can only be issued if the patent examiner is convinced that the invention is new and not an obvious combination of things in the prior art. The data obtained from the patent search is used by the applicants to find related patents.
A patent search is the first thing that is done in the process of patent registration. The objective of the patent search is to determine how the invention done is different from what already exists in the prior art. But we must keep in mind that the patent search will not tell us whether your invention infringes someone else's patent or not.
It benefits the inventor by identifying the closest prior art in order to determine how patentable the invention is, and what specific parts of the invention are different from the prior art. A patent search can also disclose that the invention made by the inventor has already been made even if the invention has never been available for purchase.
There are different types of patent searches and opinions not commonly known by many inventors. Below are the four types of patent searches.
1. Novelty or patentability Search
Novelty or patentability is the most common search that is requested. This type of search is used to determine the likelihood of getting a patent through USPTO (United trades patent and Trademark Office). Generally, startups or the new inventions will request a novelty search in order to see whether their invention is patentable and worth the money and time to pursue.
2. Freedom to operate search
FTO (Freedom to operate) search sometimes known as clearance search operated to determine if the inventor is free to operate the invention without any fear of getting used for infringement. The purpose of the FTO search is not on the disclosure portion of the prior art as in novelty search but the claim portion of the in-force patents found. Because of this reason, Freedom to operate (FTO) searches is tending to be much more complicated.
3. Non-infringement Opinion
Similar to FTO (Freedom to operate) search, it determines if the invention proposed by the inventor will infringe a particular patent. For example, a non-infringement opinion should be obtained when a new product or technology is created but is known to be similar to an existing patent product, technology or process when there are known competitors with a patent.
4. Validity search
This search is similar to the patentability search that is undertaken by law firms either to validate the enforceability of the patent's claim or to invalidate one or more than one claim to the patent. These two searches are identical except the results i.e. valid or invalid patent claims.