The Importance of Patent Searches

This report on talks about the Euro notes that may possibly infringe a European Patent. The patent holder is apparently seeking a reasonable royalty for the literally billions of Euro notes in circulation.

Let this serve as an example of how operating in a vacuum can be a bad thing.

As an engineer, I was amazed by the lack of people who used patents as a source of inspiration and ideas upon which to build new products. I was also amazed by the seeming willingness to reinvent the wheel, even when there were stacks of well documented and easily accessible inventions in a particular field. In business, ignoring patents have much more dire consequences.

Whether or not you choose to ignore the patent database, there are times when you do so at your own peril. When developing a new product, a businessperson must make the calculated risk that they may infringe someone else’s patent.

A typical right-to-use search is a very comprehensive search of any possible class or subclass that a new product may infringe. These searches are extraordinarily expensive, and are appropriate for products that are very high value/high volume and where the potential scope of the search is reasonable. The best types of product for this type of search are simple mechanical devices.

But the right-to-use search is a business tool, and one which is used as a safety net or as insurance against business risk. Patent searches are not just to minimize risk.

Engineers and product developers, including developers of difficult-to-copy documents, may also use patent databases for ideas and concepts onto which they can build and expand. Designers who are consciously and actively building on other people’s patents are, by definition, building on the state of the art. This is especially true when the designer finds a patent that he/she is likely to infringe. At this point, the designer must find a better way or have the businesspeople in the enterprise negotiate a license. In order for that to happen, the designer usually exhausts all alternatives before admitting defeat and convincing management that the patented method is superior to any he/she could create.

I do not know what happened during the development of the Euro notes, and whether or not the developers used or even had access to the various patent databases. I do not know if the project managers considered performing a right to use search before releasing the notes into circulation. From my experience, many more companies are apt to be caught in a similar bind because they are not making good business use of the existing and easily accessible patent databases available to almost every engineer, designer, and businessperson at the click of a mouse.