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How-to-Guide for Do-it-Yourself Patent Research

Hiring a lawyer is a critical part of the new product idea protection process, but being able to read patents yourself is also important!

Here is a simple guide to help you read patents.

What is a Patent?

On a high-level, a patent is a subset of legal protection for intellectual property. Grouped with patents are Trademarks and Copyrights; however, for hardware and physical products, patents are most relevant

Although definitions of patents very, the concise description below, sums it up well:

“A patent is an intellectual property right provided by the government, giving an inventor sole usage of their invention for a limited amount of time; 14 to 20 years, depending on the type of patent. Patents are given in exchange for public disclosure of the invention, as well as payments made to the government.”

Importance of Patents

Patents help improve the value of technology developments through allowing a firm to deploy patent based strategies. The result is an exclusion of competitors, higher profit margins and a mechanism for generating licensing revenue. For startups, patents will both help with external funding and allow potential investors to access tangible evidence of what excludes you from competitors.

How to Read a Patent

When trying to read a patent, many individuals get caught up in the legalize. The key point to remember is you don’t need a four year degree in IP (Intellectual Property) to read a patent and extract information.  The key is knowing what to look for and what to skip past. In reality, it can take hours or days to “fully” evaluate a patent; however, with time precious ehow put together an excellent summary of how to read a patent effectively. The main points are highlighted below; however, if you’re short on time, skip to Step 5:

Step 1: Skip the title

The title of the patent can be just about as general as the author wants; for example tt often describes a product being improved on – not a new invention.  For example, a patent titled “Virtual Desktop Manager” does not actually patent virtual desktops; it covers a particular set of features of a specific virtual desktop management implementation. Effectively, the patent may set the context but not the content.

Step 2: Skip the drawings

Patent drawings are mostly similar to quick sketches of a product concept except that they cost in the area of $5,000.  These drawings are generally impossible to read and only have a small bearing on the enforceability of the patent.

Step 3: Skip the abstract

In other fields, the abstract is your best friend: a short, direct summary of the major points of a paper.  Patent abstracts are at best meandering and hard to read, and at worst deliberately misleading. The best suggestion is to skim over it and not make concrete opinions as to the validity of the statements made.

Step 4: Skip the specification

Essentially the specification is a detailed description that does not clearly separate what’s, new, novel and invented from what is common knowledge. The background and field of the invention are usually not relevant and the description of the drawings is generally incomprehensible and difficult to comprehend.

Step 5: Find the independent claims and read them

The independent claims are the only part of the patent that have any actual legal enforceability.  They are usually short, one sentence or so, difficult to parse in detail but skimming them over will bring both the context and content of the patent into view.

Step 6: Toss the dependent claims

Any claim that starts with “The _____ of claim _____” is essentially a refinement or detail with narrower scope than the parent claim, meaning if the original independent claims provided no value and meaning to you, these will not as well.

Step 7: And that’s it!

Getting sucked in to a patent dispute is no good for any entrepreneur.  By the time it’s done, you may be able to recite 40 pages of  “patenteese” by memory, but if all you need is a quick summary, just cut directly to the independent claims.  You’ll be done in a minute.

Over all patents are critical to the success of startups, entrepreneurs and existing firm exploring new product avenues. They can provide legal protection, stimulate investor confidence and reduce competitive pressures.  They key is to know what they can do for you. If you thinking of filing a patent or looking for legal advice regarding IP contact our partners at Hazlolaw.


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