Obtaining competitive product information
All patents and some patent applications are published. A key purpose of the patent system is to publish knowledge and promote progress.
A patent is a contract with the government where the inventor agrees that details of the invention be published in exchange for a period of protection for the invention.
Australian and foreign patent databases include huge volumes of technical knowledge. Searching them and studying pending patent applications and granted patents can provide a lot of useful information about your competitors' products and future directions.
You can search patent databases to find:
- all patents owned by a competitor
- technical details of another system (if patented)
- all patents on a particular topic, product or technology
- details of technology that can possibly be licensed
A patent is both a technical and a legal document with information that allows a person who is skilled in the area to make and use the patented invention.
Using competitive product information
Competitive product information can be used in two ways:
- to design around a patent
- to get a step ahead of competitors
You are entitled to commercialise anything not covered by the patent's claims. You may discover a significant area or use for a product that is not in fact covered by your competitor's patent.
You may improve on the technology patented and patent your improvement. Your patent may then stop your competitor commercialising your improvement. It will also stop them making the technological improvement you have already patented.
Determining who owns a patent
The Patents Register records patentees and should always be searched to determine who owns a patent.
Patents can be transferred by way of assignment and assignments can be recorded in the patents register. The register can be searched using AusPat.
Although the assignment is effective even if it is not recorded, the Patents Act 1990 provides protection for those who rely on the Patents Register to determine who owns a patent. Unregistered documents are not admissible in court proceedings except in certain circumstances.
Determining if a patent has been mortgaged
All security interests such as mortgages over a patent must be recorded by the secured party on the national Personal Property Security Register. The PPS Register can be searched to determine whether there is a mortgage over a patent. From 30 January 2012, our Register of Patents is no longer a legal securities register. Some mortgages may continue to be recorded on the Patents Register, however it is not a complete record. More information is available in the Official Notice.
If a company owns the patent, you should also search company charge information (fees apply) through the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to conduct a company search and determine whether the mortgage has been recorded on that register.
Determining whether a patent is valid
Just because a patent has been issued does not always mean it is valid. Relevant prior art may not have been uncovered when we conducted the examination of the patent application and if this prior art later comes to light, the patent can be invalidated.
If you are concerned about infringing another party's patent, conduct a prior art search to see if you can invalidate that patent. Remember the adage that it is never possible to prove a patent is valid, but it may be possible to prove it is invalid.
Australian patent information
Australian patent databases reflect only a small percentage (approximately 7 percent) of world patenting activity but they provide up-to-date information about Australian patents.
They can be a good place to start a search if you have limited resources. You might find a similar invention right away and avoid the time and cost of a wider search. Alternatively, it may help you decide on the technical areas in which to concentrate your search effort.
Patent information is classified by subject matter and can be searched worldwide using commercial patent databases.
Using these databases effectively is a specialised skill and can be time consuming and costly. For this reason you may want to contact an IP professional to carry out a search for you.
Using the International Patent Classification to search
The International Patent Classification (IPC), is a tool used by many patent offices around the world to classify patent documents. The IPC is divided along broad technological lines into eight sections. These eight sections are then further subdivided. In total, the IPC has approximately 70,000 subdivisions. Each subdivision is represented by a symbol consisting of Arabic numerals and letters of the Latin alphabet.
The relevant IPC symbols (often called 'IPC marks') for any patent document are selected by the national or regional patent office that publishes the patent document. The IPC marks are shown on each patent document (published patent applications and granted patents).
Last Updated: 13/12/2012