Competition Search and Patent Search - Why You Should Not (Completely) Reinvent the Wheel
While you are working on your invention, you naturally assume you are dealing with a novelty. But it is never too early to keep an eye on the position of the competition. A patent search in the database tells you where you stand - you don't have to reinvent the wheel. However, research can also save you from mistakes, make your invention better, and point out marketing possibilities.
Avoid Double Inventions by Early Patent Searches
To apply for a patent for your invention, you must prove it is a genuine novelty and cannot simply be derived from the state of the art. However, it is advisable not to start a search shortly before filing a patent application, but much earlier. History shows that inventors often work on solving problems almost simultaneously, although not always with the same result. A patent search tells you whether someone somewhere in the world has already applied for a patent for something very similar to your invention. To search for foreign patents, you can, for example, use the DEPATISnet database of the German Patent and Trademark Office (DPMA) free of charge via the Internet. There, you will also find international property rights. The European database Espacenet and Google Patents are two more free patent search options. In addition, there are also patent databases that are subject to a fee and offer even more possibilities.
Patent Databases: How do I find information?
The entries in a database usually provide information such as date, inventor, title, and country. The patents are classified according to an international classification system (IPC - International Patent Classification), which is divided according to areas of application. Of course, you can also search for keywords. It is not easy, however, to find out the intellectual property rights in many documents that might cause you problems. You can get help with patent searches in the information centers of the Patent Office. You can also order the search from experts for a fee, either from the Patent Office or from a patent attorney, so that nothing escapes your notice. The register of the DPMA, the "Patent Land Register", contains more detailed information on the state of proceedings of German industrial property rights.
Learning from Competitors
If the result of the patent search is that your planned development has unfortunately already been registered as a patent by someone else, you know where you stand. You can use the documents to compare the solution of the other inventor and determine if it is better or if you can make it even better and thus acquire a new patent. You might also be interested in what this patent holder has done with his invention. From this, you can draw conclusions about your own plan. Did he market it successfully or has it become a shelf warmer? What would you do better? And if his patent is not valid in your country, you have a free hand. You don't always have to (completely) reinvent the wheel if you want to get things rolling! Sometimes it's enough if you do it a little better.
Why you should protect your inventions.
More Reason for a Patent Search
Your first patent should not be your last. It is advisable to keep a permanent eye on your competitors and technical developments if you want to exploit your invention in your own company. A search in the patent databases is helpful in any of the following occasions:
- During invention, as testing and inspiration
- Before the patent application, prior art search
- Before the market launch of a product (Freedom to Operate)
- For competition monitoring after the introduction of your product
The State of the Art Search
In order to successfully apply for your patent, you must prove that your invention does not infringe on any existing industrial property rights and that it cannot simply be derived from the state of the art. A prior art search is, therefore, imperative. In this way, you can distinguish your invention from others and explain the differences. However, the state of the art also includes articles in trade journals or trade fair presentations. If someone has already presented something similar somewhere, your invention is not new and not innovative enough - even if the competitor is abroad and you knew nothing about it. But the state of the art also includes what you yourself have already published about your own project. If you plan to apply for a patent, you should not talk too much about your invention in advance in order not to endanger your own application.
Competitors Always in View: The Competition Research
If your invention has progressed so far that you can market it within the framework of your own company, you should first conduct thorough competition research. Founders who believe they have no competitors have usually just not done the right research. Competitive analysis helps you understand how others have positioned themselves. What prices do they charge for the comparable product? How are sales, marketing, and service structured? How successful are they with it? This competition research saves you from unrealistic expectations and disappointments. You can draw conclusions for your own concept. And finally, it is helpful to know the technical basis on which competitors' products are based. You can read the details of the inventions in the patent databases.
How to search the patent databases?
A number of commercial and non-commercial, publicly accessible patent databases are available for patent research. In many databases you can search for patents that contain a specific word or combination of words, for instance
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Investors Convince with a Well-Thought-Out Concept
Competitive analysis is also an important part of the business plan you present to banks and investors. They are more likely to be persuaded to give you money if you can prove that your concept is well thought out and that your product has a good chance of finding its place in the market. The relationship to the competitors is an important point. What exactly is your unique selling point? What do you do better than the others and how do you communicate this to the customer? A close look at your competitors helps you sharpen your profile and improve your own concept. Of course, your product may not infringe any third-party industrial property rights. This should be checked in a Freedom-To-Operate Research before the market launch.
The Competition Does Not Sleep
If your company has started successfully and you earn money with your invention, you can first breathe a sigh of relief. But just as you once came on the market with a new idea, so will others try it sooner or later - known and new competitors. Your patent guarantees you up to 20 years of protection for your invention, but someone else might come up with a better one. Industrial property rights do not guarantee a permanent top position. It, therefore, makes sense to regularly check in which direction the technical development will continue. Inventors' and trade fairs provide an insight into this. Even more thorough is a regular patent search in the class in which your invention is classified, possibly also in related classes. From this, you will learn which path your competitors take and which new competitors you can expect. A search in patent classes, however, is quite time-consuming and requires a lot of experience to produce a usable result. If you prefer not to do it yourself, you can hire a patent attorney and save time.
Ideas in Competition bring Everyone Forward
The lonely inventor, who creates his idea out of nothing and is not attacked by anyone on the market for decades, does not exist. Just as you built your invention on the knowledge of others, so do your competitors. From development to marketing, you are surrounded by others who are also creative and want to make money. This may not be convenient, but it is not a reason for resignation: learn from others to become better yourself and to assert yourself on the market. Perhaps this will inspire you to come up with a new idea. You can save yourself the trouble of completely reinventing the wheel. Even mistakes made by others can be revealing - so you don't make them yourself. You can be sure that others will build on your invention and observe you to learn from you as well. Without a competition of ideas, there would probably be neither a car nor an airplane and perhaps not even suitable light bulbs.