The Idea to Product Life Cycle Series 4 of 12: Patent Research and Applications


Protection for your products

In this blog series, we deep dive into each stage of the idea to product lifecycle, from identifying a problem and formulating an idea through production and marketing. In each post, we’ll focus on one of the twelve unique aspects of the cycle and its impact on the end product.

Stage 4 of 12: Patent research and application

patent research application stage

The fourth stage of the idea to product lifecycle forces you to dive into the depths of patent search databases for patent research and applications.

Why research?

Patent research and applications may seem like a daunting task given that the number of patents is somewhere between 60 and 100 million. However, there are a few ways to optimize your efforts through advanced searches.

Patent research is an opportunity to research what other products already exist and things to avoid in order to protect yourself from costly litigation. Many databases for patents and applications exist, some are better than others, but most will allow you to optimize your search through different filters, such as the date the application was filed.

Many applicants will try to keep the details of their invention as secretive as possible by using vague descriptions in the application with the exception of the claims section in which they must specify the unique functions and applications of their product. Most patent search databases will have the ability to filter the search to specific parts of the application. For more detailed information, it would be wise to read through the claims section of applications.

An international conflict

One of the biggest difficulties within patent research and applications is that there are no global standards for patents. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) serves as an extension of the UN to oversee intellectual property and patent laws around the world, however, their policies only apply to its member states, and even then, they cannot completely compensate for the lack of standardization. Typically, WIPO will give an opinion on how potentially patentable an invention is.

If you are researching patents, both granted and applications, you may notice inconsistencies surrounding the process of obtaining a patent in other countries. For some, depending on their intention for the product, this may be of benefit, however, it can also cause some confusion because some lesser-quality patents may be approved in some countries while not approved in others due to less-strict screening processes. The US seems to have some of the stricter patent guidelines, but that doesn’t seem to be a deterrent as there’s been a significant increase in the number of patent applications submitted.

To patent or not to patent

Today, the U.S. Patent Office receives six times as many applications as it did in 1980. This is sort of a catch-22 situation as it’s a sign of progress for more inventions being created, but it also signifies the possibility of a halt or decline in innovation as inventors wait for their patents to be granted.

The patent application process can be lengthy and costly. Once filed, your application will pass through several hands, including those of a patent examiner who determines if the idea or invention meets the qualifications (if it’s unique and useful enough) to be granted a patent. Until a patent is officially granted, it’s status remains as an application, and it can stay like that for several years. Typically, the process takes about three to four years, during which time, technology may have advanced significantly. If a patent is granted, as long as you continue to update the application with any new additions, the patent protection will last for 20 years. Within that period, you can choose what you do with the idea or invention.

Patents offer the inventor an opportunity to protect their invention for a predetermined amount of time. This protection deters others from trying to steal ideas out of fear of litigation. Patents can also allow inventors to supplement their product development expenses by licensing the invention, or parts of it, to others for a fee.

In the US system, there are two different types of patents: utility patents and design patents. Design patents are typically less expensive and take less time to be approved than utility patents, but they do not offer as broad of a reach of protection as utility patents. A design patent will protect the design of an invention, whereas a utility patent will protect its actual functionality. If you are considering applying for a patent in the US, you’ll need to decide which of these patent types will be most valuable to you and your invention.

If you believe your idea or potential product to be innovative, as it should be, you may want to consider applying for a patent. At the very least, you’ll want to conduct research about what other patents already exist for similar products.

What’s next?

Hopefully, you’ve made it through this long, information-filled post, because in the next post, you’ll finally get the opportunity to explore the product design stage!

Elizabeth Gomes
About the Author

Marketing Intern and sparkling water enthusiast