Prior Art Search-Understanding the Basics

Prior art search, state of the art search or background art, in most systems of patent law, is constituted by all information that has been made available to the public in any form before a given date that might be relevant to a patent’s claims of originality. If an invention has been described in the prior art, a patent on that invention is not valid.

Simply put, prior art is any form of information that is published anywhere across the globe in any form before a given date. As per U.S. patent law, applicants are required to submit prior art searches with a patent application to determine the validity of an invention.

Kinds of Prior Art Searches 

Mainly there are two kinds of prior art searches those we can undertake while doing a comprehensive and full prior art search.

1)      Product Search

2)      Patent Search 

In product search, we find products that are either similar to our intended product or are same as of yours. In patent search, we search patents those are relevant to our intended invention. For thorough prior art search we should do both product search and patent search.

Steps of doing a prior art search

There are mainly three steps those are involved in a prior art search.

Step 1: Finding right keyword- Like many other searches, patent search is a kind of database search wherein we put relevant keyword(s) on the database and it returns appropriate search result accordingly. To improve the likelihood of finding the most relevant document it is important to include as many relevant keywords as possible to our search. This can be made possible only when we find maximum numbers of keywords that can describe our intended idea or invention. Simply put, keyword research is one of the most important elements of prior art search.

It is important for the patent search professional to find general keywords as well as technical keywords, for example, if you were to find prior art for a ‘mouse trap device’ then generally used words are more than enough, but, if we were to find keywords for external devices that pump blood round the human body then medical term like ‘extra corporeal’ can be used.

Step 2: Product searching- With this, we search already existing products

  • That is similar to your idea (prior art)
  • That tackles the same problem (competing art)

Obsolete technologies or products may be prior art, so check historical as well as current sources of information. Products in development but not yet on the market may be prior art, so search news sites, industry journals, trade shows and exhibition websites. Perhaps especially search academic research activity, as this is where many new products start out, often years before a commercial product appears.

Sources to do product search:

  • Shops
  • Books
  • Periodicals
  • Printed catalogues
  • News sites
  • Industry journals
  • Trade Shows
  • Exhibition websites
  • Academic research activities
  • Retailers and suppliers who are working in the domain
  • People who have retired from relevant careers

Step 3: Patent Searching – For many ideas and inventions patent search is far more important than product search wherein we find patents related to our intended invention and try to judge the validity of our idea or product.

Patent searching involves two skills:

  • Finding every patent document that is relevant to your invention
  • Interpreting the significance of your patent search findings

Resources to find patent documents-

  • U.S. PTO patent database
  • EPO patent database
  • WIPO patent database

Putting it simply, prior art search or state of the art search or background search is all about searching already existing products, patents, documents and anything that can help examiners determine the validity of an idea. It is important for a party to do a thorough prior art search as it has many long term benefits and you can take informed decisions.

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