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Why is a Search for Prior Art conducted?

Companies ususally conduct searches for prior art to (in-)validate intellectual property rights of competitors. During patent opposition proceedings documents are sought that show the technology in question as part of the prior art at the time of patent application. Documents proving a patented technology lacks novelty are crucial in litigation, decisive in invalidating the patent.
Patent examiners in patent offices also conduct prior art research in the course of patent filings.