March 11, 2019
As reported in Industry Week, companies looking to advance new technologies would do well to research old patents and previously published applications for a myriad of reasons.
For one, this research can reveal what others have developed and disclosed in their patents and patent applications, helping companies to avoid potential patent infringement. In addition, old patents can provide intel as to who the competitors in any given area might be. Consequently, companies can weigh whether to attempt to pursue licensing agreements with certain parties in possession of a valid patent instead of investing a great deal of time, effort, and expense into new R&D themselves. Finally, researching old patents and published applications is a good way to learn what has not already been developed and disclosed. This, in turn, can help direct R&D efforts.
Researching the status of a U.S. patent is easy to do – not only does the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) website offer search capabilities, so too do other resources like Google Patents. These platforms offer keyword searches and will indicate whether a patent has reached the end of its term and has therefore expired.
This can be incredibly useful for companies – once expired, a patent enters the public domain and all rights previously held by the patent-owner and any licensees are extinguished. This means that the patent becomes freely available for public use. That said, it is important for companies availing themselves of an expired patent to note that they must stay within the confines of the scope of the patent. In other words, they cannot add to or otherwise modify the expired patent in order to avoid the unintended infringement of a wholly separate patent that may still be in effect.
Authors: Amanda Bertucci and Anna Condon