Knowing what patents are associated with a particular product is important when discussing prior art (products or methods that are related to an invention) in a patent application. Moreover, this knowledge can save a company millions of dollars in patent litigation because it helps guard against known patent infringement. Fortunately, the law makes it relatively easy to conduct such research. By being a patent sleuth, you can find out if a product is protected by one or more patents.
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Things you need
- Product packaging and literature
- Computer and Internet access
Examine the product and all the packaging associated with it for patent numbers. Many manufacturers imprint the patent number on the product because they can't sue for infringement unless they've put the public on notice that the product is protected. The patent number is often located on the back of electronic products near the power source. For products made of moulded plastic, the patent numbers are often embossed on the body. For example, the plastic body of the Shark TM Cordless hand vacuum is embossed with the US, Japanese, and European patent numbers, along with the words "patent pending." "Patent Pending" means that the inventor has filed a patent application that has not been allowed at the time of manufacture.
Go to the product manufacturer's website and open any documentation associated with the product. Frequently, patent numbers associated with a product are found on the first or second page of a product manual. For example, Page 1 of the Apple Xserve Diagnostics User's Guide specifies that "Apparatus Claims of U.S. Patent Nos. 4,631,603, 4,577,216, 4,819,098 and 4,907,093 licensed for limited viewing uses only."
Search for patents at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) website. Click on the link for patent searches that's on the left-hand side of the home page. Find “USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database (PatFT)” and then proceed to “Advanced Search.” Enter the manufacturer’s name under “Assignee": This will provide you with the total list of patents that have been assigned to the manufacturer. For example, an assignee search for Apple Computer would be done by typing "AN/Apple" into the query box. This search yields all the patents assigned to Apple.
Tips and warnings
- A product can be protected by multiple patents. Consider each element of the product (i.e., motherboard, memory, network card), because each is patented separately.
- Consider the age of the patent. Even though you may find that a product has a patent associated with it, determine when the patent was granted—its term may have ended.
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