Basic Invention Market Research
The value of doing your market research
Market research is a critical part of the invention process and while many recommend research prior to moving forward with a utility patent application, I recommend performing a basic level of research prior to doing any work on your idea after conception. In essence, this should be the starting point of your invention.
Note: a more in-depth level of research called “due diligence” may be performed later in the process, and I’ll address this later in the guide. Before you spend any money on your idea, such as using the services of a patent attorney, invention support-company, marketing agency, or consultant, it would be wise to see if other similar products are already on store shelves at your local retailers.
Basic market research can be as simple as visiting your local Wal-Mart, Home Depot or Target to see if anything similar is already on the market. I have had many inventors come back after a quick shopping trip to tell me that they were surprised to see the exact product already on the market. Other basic research opportunities may be to look for other products on the market that offer the same solution or search the Internet.
What if you find a similar product?
I can tell you from experience that just because you find a similar product on the market doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t succeed with your idea. For starters, you should research whether the similar product is patented or not. Just because a product is on the market doesn’t mean that it has received patent protection or that a patent has been filed; however, you should be aware that it may end up preventing you from receiving patent protection.
Next, you should look closely at the product to see if your idea has benefits or features different from the similar product. For example, if you had an idea for a new mousetrap, I guarantee that you would find numerous mousetraps already on the market designed to do the same thing – catch mice. You must ask yourself questions such as is yours better, does it function more efficiently, is it designed differently to allow for lower cost production? When in doubt, I would recommend consulting with a registered patent attorney.
What “patentability” means
“Patentability” refers to the process of determining if your invention is eligible to receive a patent. One of the primary considerations of patentability is whether another patent already exists on your invention. This process of determining patentability involves reviewing and understanding existing patents as well as non-patented, similar products (together called “prior art”) to determine the unique qualities (“novelty”) of your invention. A USPTO examiner performs a “patentability assessment” during the patent review process. Some inventors also contract with a Patent Attorney or Agent to conduct a preliminary “patentability opinion” prior to moving forward with a patent application.
This process does not guarantee that your patent application will “pass” the patent criteria followed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, but it could be beneficial in the long run. Also, it is important to understand that this process is not an exact science. A patent attorney will do his or her best to find applicable prior art and to make a determination, but with the millions of patents that exist today, you will never receive a 100% guarantee.
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The all important patent search
One of the major factors of “patentability,” as discussed above, is to consider what similar inventions are already patented. For best results, I would recommend that you hire a patent attorney or patent search firm to complete this step. A patent search is the process of searching for all previous issued patents. It may also include a search of foreign patents and printed publications. A patent search does not guarantee that your invention is or is not patentable. It is primarily focused on determining what similar or like invention(s) are already patented. Note: most companies that may consider licensing your invention will inquire about your patent search results.
Performing a patent search
Along with basic market research, I recommend that you consider a patent search prior to moving forward with filing a provisional or non-provisional patent application. The last thing you want to do is waste your time and money developing an invention only to find out later that it had already been invented and patented. As I mentioned above, patent searching is not an exact science so you’ll never receive a 100% guarantee that the search found every applicable patent, which is an inherent risk in the process.
Concerned about modifying an existing product?
Don’t be. Modifications to existing products are done every day, which drives product improvements and competition. Many inventors focus purely on improving existing ideas and products, and profit from simply modifying products that are already on the market. The only caveat to this strategy is to ensure that you modify the invention in such a way that it is different from what the original patent holder has claimed. Many times, you can improve an existing product and receive patent protection on the “new” product.