Avoiding Patent Infringement: Tips for New Businesses
No entrepreneur starts out thinking they will end up in court over patent infringement, but it happens more often than you may realize.
According to a report by Stanford Law, between 5,000 and 6,000 patent cases are filed in the U.S. each year. In many cases, the problem arises when the startup learns its new product depends on the patented underlying technology.
Patent owners can prevent other companies or people from selling, making, or using inventions covered in their patents. However, patents don’t ensure the owner has the legal right to sell, make, or use what has been patented. This is where many inventors go wrong.
Even if your technology is eligible for a patent, marketing your technology could result in a patent infringement.
3 Tips for Avoiding Patent Infringement
Whether your startup is introducing the latest in AI technology or an innovative new bicycle lock, failing to consult with a patent lawyer is one of the worst mistakes you can make.
The patent landscape is a difficult one to navigate without extensive training. Seeking legal advice can save time, money, and a potential future lawsuit. However, there are some steps you can take to avoid legal complications.
1. Search for Relevant Patents
You may never have seen anything like your new technology, but that doesn’t mean there are not already dozens of patents related to your product. The most common example of this mistake is when an inventor improves on a competitor’s product. A better mousetrap is still a mousetrap.
Search your competitors’ products for patent markings. Any patent numbers represent patents you must clear before launching your own product.
An alternative method for searching relevant patents is to launch an FTO or freedom-to-operate search. The FTO may uncover several related patents. This allows you to review all claims before you move forward.
2. Review Related Patent Claims
The pre-existence of related patents doesn’t mean your idea can’t be produced. The scope of the patent protection determines whether you are infringing or not. Look for dependent and independent claims at the back of the patent. Dependent claims refer to another claim. Independent claims do not.
An independent claim indicates that the invention can, at least theoretically, function without using features from any other invention. Independent claims are the concern when it comes to patent infringement. Independent claims may be supplemented with dependent claims, but they are not considered essential for operation.
For example, a dependent claim may specify the color of an invention, but color is not essential to its operations. If your product does not include every element in an independent claim, it avoids infringement.
3. Modify Your Product
New technologies go through many adaptations before they finally hit the market, and some of those adaptations are to avoid patent infringement. If your invention infringes on a competitor’s independent claim, the next step is to make modifications.
Being “different” from a competitor isn’t enough. You must find a way to adapt your product to not infringe on even one feature listed in an independent claim. The best approach is to find the weaknesses in existing claims.
Removing the weakest components from your invention — the ones that aren’t 100% necessary for function — will not only help you avoid infringement but may also result in an even better product.
If no components can be removed, the next step is to develop alternative mechanisms that will accomplish the same function.
Bringing a new technology to market can make you feel stuck in a never-ending obstacle course. Every inventor faces the same challenges, but not everyone has the determination to overcome each hurdle. Using these tips and speaking with a patent attorney will help you reach your final goal.
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