While perusing an Amazon seller Facebook group, I came across a member posting about her patent nightmare and asking for advice. Her situation was this: she was selling a pretty generic product (a balloon) as part of a party kit. She was contacted by another seller demanding that she remove that one element from the kit because they had the patent on it, or more specifically, on the ornamental script design that was printed on the balloon. They had been able to prove to Amazon that they owned the patent and were asking her to stop including the balloon in her product, the removal of which would result in heavy losses.
The question is, how could she have known she was treading on an existing patent when she created her product? Do you know how to dig through the database on the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website?
The Complexity of a Patent Search
If you’ve never been there, I can tell you, it’s not like you just tap in a description of your product and voila… all the like-patented products are pulled up. There’s a lot more to it. You need to know what to enter into the search. You need to know how to interpret and sort through what comes up. Much of this is a foreign language to those uneducated in patent law.
Luckily, the USPTO provides a comprehensive, step-by-step tutorial on how to conduct a search. It will only take 38 minutes of your time.
Because this is some of the driest, most tedious work you’ll ever spend 38 minutes on, we’ve decided to pull out the key points, so you know what you’re getting yourself into before you start your search. You can then make the decision to either do it yourself or hire someone on Fiverr to do it for you. Last time I checked, someone with hundreds of favorable reviews was offering patent searches for $15, and including an NDA.
Nine Simple Steps to Conducting a Search
Brainstorm a list of keywords that describe the purpose, use and composition of your product.
Step 2: Go to www.uspto.gov, locate the search box in the upper righthand corner, and search in this format: CPC Scheme [plus keywords(s) describing product].
Step 3: Click on the CPC Scheme that best matches your product.
Step 4: Scan over the classification titles to find the one that most closely describes your product.
Step 5: If the classification title is underlined, it’s linked to a definition that can be helpful in identifying the best match for your product. Read through these definitions if necessary.
Step 6: Once you find the classification title that best describes your product, copy the CPC classification (it will look something like A45B 25/22.
Step 7: Go back to the www. uspto.gov and click on the PatFt AppFT / Patent finder in the Quick links menu.
Step 8: Paste the CPC classification where it says Term 1, (be sure to delete the space between A45B25 and 25/22). Adjust Field 1 so it says Current CPC Classification. Leave Term 2 blank. In the Select years box, select 1790 to present [entire database], and click Search.
Step 9: Review the first pages of the resulting patents to see if any warrant more in-depth review. You can click on Images at the top of the page to get a PDF image of each patent.
And That’s All There Is to It. Sort of…
That’s it when it comes to finding the patents that might clash with your product.
This is a very brief overview of how to do a search. There are much more detailed instructions here.
The detailed handout of the Seven Step Strategy is particularly helpful. Or, seriously, hire someone to do this for you every time you develop a new product, so you don’t have to worry about it again.
It’s a good idea to conduct a patent search before you produce a new product, of course, but having this knowledge is also very helpful when you receive a notice from a competing seller asking you to stop selling. Now you’ll know exactly where to go and what to do, so you can proceed with confidence should you find yourself in a patent battle.