Make your medical product ideas come to life: Searching for prior art

How likely are you to obtain a patent for your invention? If you made and sold it right now, would you be infringing someone else’s patent? Researching the patent databases will help you answer these questions and give you a good idea about whether your innovation is already described or claimed by others.

Certain patents and patent applications that you uncover, commonly referred to as “prior art,” will be more relevant than others. Note, though, prior art also includes publications and unpatented inventions. Moreover, there is a difference in the effect of discovering a description of your invention in some prior art, but failing to find it covered by any claim in any patent.

Before we look further at that, let’s explore a way to research the prior art, for this example, in the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) database (see http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/search-bool.html). The Indian government has a similar tool available for searching Indian patents at: http://ipindiaservices.gov.in/patentsearch/search/index.aspx – click the Granted Patents tab to begin searching.

Conveniently, the USPTO search page allows you to conduct a simple search using two keywords at a time. The Indian patent search page allows more keywords, but it is generally safer to use only two, so that relevant results are not excluded accidentally. My choice is to employ the keywords for a search of the patent abstracts. In using this method, it is essential to come up with all the words you possibly can. The reason is, if you inadvertently omit a relevant keyword, you could conceivably miss a critical patent—one which might otherwise cause you to abandon your idea or, at least, alter your course.
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