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Seeking Prior Art Before Filing Patent? 86

Posted by Cliff
from the due-diligence-leg-work dept.
An anonymous reader asks: "I had a sort of out-there idea for computer hardware, and wanted to investigate design and manufacture. I figure the first step would be to patent the idea so that I am protected from it being stolen, while I confer with contractors about fabrication and circuit design. Does anyone know of ways to check for prior art, other than hitting up Google for something similar? I believe this idea is unique, but you never know what could have been out there, and I didn't know if there were any good resources on the web. Since the readership seems to be an inventive bunch, I think discussion on this topic may help more people than myself."
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Seeking Prior Art Before Filing Patent?

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  • Dont. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Atlantis-Rising (857278) on Saturday April 15, 2006 @11:36PM (#15136599) Homepage
    Nobody else does- why seperate yourself from the crowd!?
    • Re:Dont. (Score:4, Informative)

      by deanj (519759) on Saturday April 15, 2006 @11:40PM (#15136614)
      I agree here with this, as long as you don't have to spend a ton of money to get the thing filed. Otherwise, make your best effort and file.

      Also, there are going to be a TON of people here that tell you NOT to file. Don't listen to them. This is your only way of protecting your idea that has legit legal recourse if someone infringes.
      • I figure the first step would be to patent the idea so that I am protected from it being stolen,...

        Also, there are going to be a TON of people here that tell you NOT to file. Don't listen to them. This is your only way of protecting your idea that has legit legal recourse if someone infringes.

        One problem with using language for physical property for ideas is that introduces considerable ambiguity. When physical property is "stolen", two things happen: the owner no longer has the property and the thief now

        • f all you want to do is make sure that you can still use your own idea then a patent is not the way to go. Instead, you just need to tell as many people about the idea as possible in contexts where it is clear that you are the one telling people about the idea (that is, don't do it anonymously). Ideally you would publish it in a major journal but even just putting up a website precisely describing the idea would be a good start.

          That works in theory for blocking patents on your idea, but in practice it does

    • Re:Dont. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TubeSteak (669689) on Sunday April 16, 2006 @01:28AM (#15136960) Journal
      Don't file the patent?
      Or don't seek prior art?

      If it's the first, then you're entitled to your opinion.
      If it's the second, I've only got two words: Due Diligence.

      Find a patent attorney who's involved in computer technology & hire them to do the search. Getting a patent done is like going to court: sure, you can represent yourself, but it isn't a good idea.
  • by xanderwilson (662093) on Saturday April 15, 2006 @11:39PM (#15136607) Homepage
    I'd search gizmodo, engadget, and Boing Boing, as they often post "out there" examples of hardware (I'd imagine you already searched the archive of Slashdot). Also the US Patent office has a search on it and you can search by keywords, like "touch screen," "handlebars," "vibration," and "chocolate" (no, I won't tell you what I'm working on either...).

    Alex.

     
  • File the patent (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SlappyBastard (961143) on Saturday April 15, 2006 @11:40PM (#15136613) Homepage
    But don't bet on it ever having real value.

    The truth is, even if your patent is approved, the teeth of patent is backed by your ability to take it into court.

    While it is nice to hold it as a property with the possibility of transfering it in the future (to someone who CAN defend it in court), it is not a hands-down defense of your idea.

    Your idea had better be able to make it to market with quality backing by you. If that isn't there, who cares about a patent?

    For the price, if you're sold on the idea, skip the BS and just patent it already.

    • >But don't bet on it ever having real value.

      See below

      >The truth is, even if your patent is approved, the teeth of patent is
      >backed by your ability to take it into court.

      I have learned something else about patents that make them valuable and that is while one patent may not be helpful, a cloud of patents surrounding an area of technology can be quit useful in negotiations with corporations that have big legal staffs. If you are an individual with one patent that is one thing. If you are part of me
  • Attorney (Score:5, Informative)

    by GigsVT (208848) * on Saturday April 15, 2006 @11:43PM (#15136628) Journal
    You can search a list of all registered patent attorneys in the US here.

    http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/dcom/olia/oed/ros ter/ [uspto.gov]

    This is pretty much the only valid answer to this question, so we might as well shut the story down now.
    • Parent needs to be modded up. IP lawyers spend years learning how to patent search and identify claims and prior art. There is no substitute.
    • Wouldn't you want to get as much of the obvious searching as possible out of the way BEFORE you shell out the hundreds or thousands of dollars for a patent attorney? If it's obvious an idea won't fly and it's something I could find out for myself, I sure wouldn't want to spend the $$ for someone else to tell me that. I'd only want to spend the money to be told it can't work because of something I COULDN'T find by myself, or to confirm my suspicion that I can patent it.
      • Re:Attorney (Score:4, Informative)

        by mdfst13 (664665) on Sunday April 16, 2006 @01:40AM (#15137002)
        One of the problems that arises is that the very act of searching can increase your legal liability if you are ever found to infringe on someone else's patent. If you pay a patent lawyer to search for you, then you aren't tainted by the results of the search. The lawyer's search will only be relative to your patentable claims.

        Inventors should never look at patents. That's why we have lawyers. Lawyers act as an important abstraction layer in the process.

        To try to give a concrete (albeit abstract) example:

        You have a process that involves method A, which you think is patentable.

        Your process also requires method B, which you think is too obvious to be patentable.

        Someone has a patent on B.

        1. If you search for stuff related to A but find B, you're now screwed. You can't proceed without purchasing a license for B.

        2. If you hire someone to search for you, even if they find B, they will ignore it as irrelevant to A. They file a patent application, noting prior art. You can later amend the application if necessary.

        Even if method A infringes on another patent, it is still possible to proceed. The buyer of your patent can purchase licenses for the prior art for method A as well as the license for method B. You get paid for your work.
        • IF Notfound A then GOTO PatentAttorneySearch ELSE GOTO SavedMoneyOnPatentAttorneyAndAbort
        • "Inventors should never look at patents."

          Of course, that also negates much of the stated purpose of patents, as they accomplish no dissemination of knowledge or repository to build upon, but rather serves only as a registry of landgrabs.

          "Lawyers act as an important abstraction layer in the process."

          Frankly, I'd suggest that the lawyers _are_ the process, and in fact that any innovation has become secondary and redundant. Lawyers can handle the application filing on their own, translating random ideas into p
          • I think the point that you are missing is that the dissemenation of knowledge is not to other inventors. The dissemination occurs because company A makes some product, company B figures they can make it cheaper, and the patent serves as dissemenation of the knowledge from A to B. The landgrab that you refer to, is making sure that company A gets paid for their original idea. Inventors don't generally read patents, they study problems and play with ideas.
        • 1. If you search for stuff related to A but find B, you're now screwed. You can't proceed without purchasing a license for B.

          2. If you hire someone to search for you, even if they find B, they will ignore it as irrelevant to A. They file a patent application, noting prior art. You can later amend the application if necessary.

          Even if method A infringes on another patent, it is still possible to proceed. The buyer of your patent can purchase licenses for the prior art for method A as well as the license for m

          • Re:Attorney (Score:4, Informative)

            by dtmos (447842) on Sunday April 16, 2006 @07:44AM (#15137640)
            IANAPL, but I have spent several dozen years talking to patent attorneys on professional matters, so I'll answer the question anyway. Patent attorneys and agents are encouraged to correct any errors.

            In the US, those that hold patents are entitled to sue for damages (e.g., payment for lost sales) resulting from someone infringing on a patent. However, there is an element in US patent law little-known outside the legal profession: If the infringer can be shown in court to have *knowingly* infringed (i.e., known of the patent yet infringed anyway), the patent holder is entitled to sue for triple damages. People attempting to file a patent are therefore frequently advised not to do patent searches, because if they are later sued over some related patent and evidence of their knowledge of the related patent exists as a result of this search (perhaps obtained via the discovery process prior to a trial), their potential losses are three times as great as they would be otherwise.

            The use of an attorney, as the GP suggested, provides an abstraction layer to prevent this potential increased liability. The attorney can take the inventor's invention, do a patent search and advise his client accordingly. Since any professional communication between attorney and client is not subject to the discovery process, the client is protected against the potential triple-damages threat whether or not the client is made aware of the prior patent.

            In my experience, attorneys will do one of two things: If the prior art is absolutely dead-on, and the attorney can see no way to obtain a patent in light of the art, he will not tell the inventor of the prior art that he has searched (which frequently includes hundreds of patents), and simply advise the client that his invention is not patentable. More often, however, the attorney will give the client the prior patent(s) and the two will examine the relevant claims together, looking for ways that the client's invention is different from that claimed by the earlier patent. This is a team effort, combining the inventor's technical expertise with the attorney's legal expertise. Identified differences will form the basis of the new patent application.

            Note that all this applies to prior patents. The inventor is free to search prior art in the form of technical journal articles, conference proceedings, etc. without penalty, AFAIK, and is frequently advised to do so, since the USPTO certainly will when the inventor's patent application is examined. Nothing is more annoying than going through the hassle of applying for a patent, only to have the examiner reject it based on a passing reference in a Byte magazine article from the 1980s (not that I would know what that was like).

            [dtmos pauses to don his aerogel suit] The antagonism between /. denizens and patent attorneys has always puzzled me. Like people writing software, the main function of patent attorneys and agents is to write precisely, using terms and phrases the definition of which have previously been determined. A well-written patent application is not unlike a well-written (albeit uncommented) computer program: It has a specific form and internal structure; everything there has a specific purpose and nothing is there that does not have a purpose. Nothing is duplicated. Variables are given specific names the first time they are used, and the names are consistent throughout; definitions are precise (if general). Like computer programs, they are written in a pre-determined and defined high-level language and, like computing, much of the hassle occurs when two different entities interpret the code differently.
            • Both you and your GP poster are wrong. The attorney you hire to write your patent does not provide a layer of abstraction that makes it likely that your attorney is going to go searching for prior art. You are right about triple damages, if the inventor knew about infringing prior art. However, the penalties for the attorney if they file a patent that infringes on known prior art are even more severe. A patent attorney is obligated by law to disclose any prior art. If they do not, they can be disbarred (the
              • Let's start off by saying that we are discussing the most advantageous legal behavior for honorable and truthful people to have, not some scam.

                Of course both the inventor and his attorney are required to disclose all known prior art when filing a patent. Not only is it a legal requirement, but it's stupid not to do so. The USPTO has its faults, but its patent search system is not one of them. You waste your money (and the attorney wastes his time, for a first-action rejection without a response limits th
            • Thank you. That was one of the most informative summaries I've read on the subject. There are still some things that seem to be constiutively confusing, though. Willful infringement seems only tangentially related to the patent process - because to be willful, you must have seen the prior patent, and you would likely only have seen it if you were doing a search for a new patent. Trying to patent a product that has already been patented won't get you sued for infringement (although your application should be
              • in most cases it must be easier for the inventor to learn the language than for the lawyer to understand the science and technology behind the invention.

                If you survey the top IP firms you'll find that their attorneys typically have, at minimum, a BSc in the field that they practice in. More often they have an MSc or a Phd. Moreover in such firms it is usual that the work of all attorneys be reviewed by partners and senior attorneys who have practiced much longer than their three year JD/LLB would indica
                • If you survey the top IP firms you'll find that their attorneys typically have, at minimum, a BSc in the field that they practice in. More often they have an MSc or a Phd. Moreover in such firms it is usual that the work of all attorneys be reviewed by partners and senior attorneys who have practiced much longer than their three year JD/LLB would indicate. Be careful with how far you take your analogies... unless you expect that you can so easily master the language and knowledge that comes with such experi

                  • There are, for example, plenty of scientists who are not programmers, but who learn enough to adequately accomplish their scientific tasks. The results are rarely pretty, but often functional. Is the same not true for patents?

                    The analogy breaks down. The definitions and requirements of the legal "language" change over time, due to various court rulings and changes in the law, and one has to keep up with such things--and, like programming, subtle differences can have big differences in the outcome. I guess

            • The antagonism between /. denizens and patent attorneys has always puzzled me. Like people writing software, the main function of patent attorneys and agents is to write precisely, using terms and phrases the definition of which have previously been determined. A well-written patent application is not unlike a well-written (albeit uncommented) computer program:

              The difference is that when we do our job well, your job gets easier. When patent attorneys do their jobs well, our jobs get a whole lot harder.

              And
            • The antagonism between /. denizens and patent attorneys has always puzzled me.
              Good point - we should be more annoyed at those that drafted the faulty legislation or those that set policy in the USPTO.

              It's a simplistic attitude, but for many practical purposes it's just a revenue collection agency and exposed to problems like "rimming" - ie. the Blackberry patent dispute.

    • "so we might as well shut the story down now."
      Nah. Let's suggest for him to go to the Patent Commons [patentcommons.org] once he's finished, and *then* shut the story down.
    • Another way of looking at this issue is by considering the economics of career specialization. Most people specialize in some discipline. By becoming a specialist, one can increase their effectiveness by gaining a deep understanding of the problem domain. This has the secondary effect of allowing a specialist to conduct a task as a lower cost because there should be less learning/training involved. When someone gets bitten by the DIY bug it frequently means that they do not properly value the opportunit
  • Does any other company really search for prior art anymore? Granted, it might help... but you don't run across something obvious... go for it anyways.
    • Yes, most companies that are serious about enforcing their patents search for prior art. Of course, when they find some, they don't just throw up their hands and give up, they start thinking about how they can get the patent even though someone else invented pretty much the same thing before.
  • What's the worst that could happen?
    • It could get invalidated very easily. It's much harder to invalidate a patent because of a piece of prior art if you actually cite that prior art in your patent (because the patent office is presumed to have actually looked at that prior art and determined that it's not relevant).
  • IP Law (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Get an IP lawyer. Seriously. They don't get paid just to defend against SCO. They actually do, you know, IP law.
  • Get a Lawyer (Score:4, Informative)

    by Shihar (153932) on Sunday April 16, 2006 @12:43AM (#15136826)
    If you are serious about filing a patent, I would highly suggest consulting with a patent lawyer. Write up the patent as best as you think it should be, then go have a chat with an IP lawyer. They will be able to help you with wording it such that you grab up as large of a swath of IP as you can. Yes, a patent lawyer cost a few bucks, but it isn't like you need to higher them full time. You just need to consult with someone, get some information, then throw the finished product back to them so they can give it a once over.

    If you are not terribly serious about this and just want to drop the $150 and get a patent, then at the very least go pick up a book on patentning. A lawyer is probably the easiest rout, but picking up a book is probably the cheapest. If you are serious and might want to try and make money off of this though, you really should talk with an IP lawyer. If nothing else, they can give you an idea of the overall cost before wasting time and money.
  • by TheoB (859132)
    Since people will sue you for infringement on the flimsiest of pretenses, you aren't really protecting yourself from the possibility of a lawsuit. On the off chance you see something similar to your idea which you dismiss as unrelated and you later get sued by the party who controls that idea, they can go after you for treble damages on the grounds of willful infringement. "But it isn't the same?" Doesn't matter: they're in a much stronger bargaining position when it comes to coercing you into a settleme
  • Seriously. Don't bother. The patent system is a mess. You've probably already infringed on 5 patents just by creating whatever it is you say you've invented. Just patent it, and don't bother with the prior art. Paul Graham wrote about that in an article that previously featured on /. [slashdot.org].
    • I would say exactly the opposite. The patent system is so messed up you almost have to file for one on any new idea. My company has started to file for several patents. Not so we can sue people but so people can't come and sue us! There was a huge law suit in our industry over a patent not long ago. Someone had gotten a patent on... Sending test over a communications line! You got that right they got a patent on the serial terminal! We had to file a "friend of the court" brief on it and gave evidence of pri
  • The Case Against Patents Classic Paper [tinaja.com], by Don Lancaster (warnings: PDF, ads at the end).
  • by JoeShmoe (90109) <askjoeshmoe@hotmail.com> on Sunday April 16, 2006 @04:24AM (#15137333)
    Patents are something that you would be an idiot to cheap out on. Patent searches are important not just to find out if what you are trying to patent has already been patented because 99% of the time, no kidding, it has. You can't find anyone who makes the damn thing, or anyone who's ever written about it, but if it's technology-related, then you're going to find that five years ago someone with deep pockets fired the patent shotgun at everything related to your idea. The real important to patent searches is that they can help you find specific claims that can coexist with all of the other patents out there. By avoiding the landmines you find in other patents, you can figure out something that is a real "gotcha" moment that qualifies as novel and non-obvious to the patent office.

    Each patent is really a bunch of little patents called claims. Patenting something like one-click shopping may have dozens of claims related to the interface, the backend processing, the operation, etc. The more claims you have, the more likely that you patent will infringe and the claims will be reject. The fewer claims you make, the more worthless your patent as someone can easily engineer around it. Given the cost of a patent from a reputable source ($8000-$15000 as high as $50000 depending on number of claims) why bother if you only want to patent something trivial?

    If you are cheap, but want some level of protection, get a patent pending. You typically draw up some diagrams and descriptions, then pay between $500-$1500 to have a patent mill or patent lawyer file a provisional patent. This gives you the ability to boldly put "Patent Pending" on your documentation and it gives you a reservation in the patent line. Then you go out, market your idea and hope that a) anyone who thinks of stealing will be discouraged by the risk that your patent is granted and you come back and screw them or b) the money you make marketting your idea can pay for the costs to get the real patent filed.

    If you are willing to invest the money, then spend a good amount to get a thorough patent search by someone who's actually there at the USPTO and can go through everything they have, not just what as been digitized. With some legal analysis and comparision of the existing claims to your idea, you can figure out what is missing and concentrate your patent on that.

    -JoeShmoe
    .

    You can do some google searches, or pay one of those patent mills $99 to run basically the same type of keyword search but that's really not going to give you much of a guide. The patent doesn't generally matter, it's the claims. If you are trying to get a utility patent on a widget, it's worth thinking...how can someone
    • Joe here had the first real comment worth reading (so far). You need to do a search, and the USPTO has a free search on their website that you can search both applications and granted patents. there are also databases like delphion, and perhaps you can find a university library with access to a service like that.

      when reading prior art patents, you need to compare what you do to the claims of the patent, ignore the abstract and all of the text before it, just read the claims, and check if that describes your
    • Good point. I had forgotten about the PPA (Provisional Patent Application). Using the forms on the USPTO site, I filed one myself as I continued to look for a good patent attorney. Total cost: $210. There's very little down-side to filing a PPA, except for the fact that the world gets to see your idea. HOWEVER, the filing of the PPA draws your legal line in the sand and establishes the date of your invention against all other claims - if, of course, your patent is granted. So VoteWord was officially out the
  • During the last week or so there were quite a few articles about patents on slashdot. Here're some points that stayed with me:
    • Most startups violate some patent. Getting sued at some point means you're successful. (Why would a patent holder bother suing you if you have no money?)
    • Having patents is important. It's helping Tivo!

    Another point that I've heard in the past is that you can patent a non-obvious improvement of someone else's patent. If your device violates a patent, but also has patentable i

  • > I figure the first step would be to patent the idea so that I am protected from it being stolen...

    For USA patent protection, you can file up to 12 months after the invention is first offered for sale or disclosed to the public. So it is possible to wait to see if the idea has some commercial merit before filing for a patent. You would lose the opportunity for international patents, but its my guess you can't afford those anyway. Another alternative is to file a provisional patent. That requires no
  • Having just patented my voting-related invention (www.voteword.org) I can tell you that I spent a lot of time on the USPTO web site making sure I was the first person in that neck of the technology woods. I also purchased a relatively inexpensive book called "Patent it Yourself", which I had hoped would guide me through the process (and probably would've, if I had had more time) After running into those time constraints, I decided to ask around for patent attorneys. I'm very glad I did, because I found a go
  • http://patft1.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/search-adv.ht m [uspto.gov]

    It may take a very long time to sift through all the related patents, but it's something you should do. For someone new to the IP game, it will take a long time to do your first one.

    btw, trying to read all the patent gibberish written is laywer-speak will be difficult and irritating, if you're serious about your patent, you could just hire a patent laywer to do it for you, but that'll cost big money.

  • In response to your question regarding prior art, I would recommend a search before filing for a patent. The process of pursuing a patent is a time and money consuming endeavor. The patent office expects you to have completed a prior art search before filing for a patent. If your idea is struck down by the patent office, you could end up wasting hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on filing fees. Conversely, a prior art search can be fairly inexpensive. Depending on the field being searched and how many
  • go the the uspto gov web site and do searches for your idea. pay particular atention to the claims as that is what is used to determin prior art. look at the abstract second and the actual text third.

    Then search google or your favorite search engine and lastly hit the library and search for publications that may contain this type of thing that you want to patent.

    lastly, if you find nothing, then get your money togeather and file a patent.

  • I'm not a patent attorney but I've filed about 40 patents on technology I've developed, written mostly by myself with a patent attorney just doing a final pass over the claims. There is a real art to writing good patent claims and if you're new to it you should get some professional help with at least that part (in addition to reading up on writing patents). In some ways a patent is like a computer program and the claims are the actual code -- the rest is just comments that help make the claims understand

    • In some ways a patent is like a computer program and the claims are the actual code -- the rest is just comments that help make the claims understandable.

      The "understandable" claims of which you speak must be in relation to patents from the planet Zargblort.

      (They're sure not from Earth.)
  • This (talking to manufacturers and wanting to make sure they don't "rip off" your idea) is absolutely the best reason to file a patent. I can think of three cases off the top of my head (Colgate, Walmart, and Evans) where a would-be inventor talked to a manufacturer without having a patent. Later the inventor finds out that the company is producing the same product. He sues, and is totally out of luck. Because he didn't file the patent, the "ripped off idea" is now prior art against him.

    And he can't really

    • Also, some people claim that patents are infeasible to enforce, which isn't really true

      Watch CSIRO vs Microsoft in the wireless networking patent dispute for details as to why it is a horrible mess and doesn't acheive the aim of protecting people who are obviously the inventors against people who are obviously not. On the other side we had the rimming over the Blackberry despite the patents appearing to be invalid - if you file an invalid patent and pay the money it appears you still get legal protection.

  • IEEE's Spectrum Magazine has an excellent article on Do-It-Yourself Patents [ieee.org] this month. To answer your question, from the article:

    The first step in conducting a [patent] search is to classify what it is you have invented. Look in the government classification manual to find the class and subclass that apply to your invention. The manual is available online at http://www.uspto.gov/go/classification/uspcindex/i ndexs.htm [uspto.gov].

    [skip example]

    The next step is to search the patent database at http://patft.usp [uspto.gov]
  • Get the Nolo Press book.
    Did I mention that you should get the Nolo Press book?
    Also, and finally, you really should get the Nolo Press book.

    P.S. the first place you need to search is the USPTO web site. the second is a good library, that includes the professional and academic journals relevant to your domain of endeavor. the third is the internet at large. but you can't really stop there, for many cases, well described in....
    the Nolo Press book.
  • IAAPA (PA=Patgent Agent)and I can tell you that you should consult with a patent agent or lawyer before proceeding. While you can, in principle, represent yourself, there are enough arcane details of the process that make it very hard to be successful. The professionals can help you with searching. In principle you need to search both the patent database and the technical realm as well. Your patent can be invalidated by an article that describes your invention that was published before you filed, just as m
  • Actually, you don't need to file a patent to have your invention protected : if you write a book [sosinvention.com] describing how you came up with it / how you intend to implement it, you can get copyright laws to protect your invention. This works on the basis that an inventor is the creator of an original work.
    • Copyrighting an idea will in no way grant you the monopoly on its use that a patent will. Copyrighting "My Cool Text Editor" will prevent infringing uses such as outright lifting of a user interface or (obviously) appropriation of source code; but if My Cool Text Editor has some nifty feature like hovering over a word to get a Google tooltip search, don't plan on a copyright helping you preserve anything more than the ad copy for it.
      • Actually, if you're the first to implement such things, you can claim copyright to its implementation in your written works, and you can exert monopoly rights on that idea. Of course, in this case, it wouldn't stop, anyone from making their software improve on the idea, but that's the same as a patent, anyways.
        • Actually, if you're the first to implement such things, you can claim copyright to its implementation in your written works,

          Right.

          and you can exert monopoly rights on that idea.

          Wrong.
  • That way if they botch it, they might be liable for the mistake, not you.

    Sure you lose your patent, but at least you might be covered for any damages that are incurred..
  • Where patent law is concerned, the context of a claim, applicable prior art, obviousness, and so on is much more important than most people understand. I doubt that you'd be able to figure out by yourself the relevance of what appears to be - but for the purpose of the patent really isn't - prior art. Nor would I - IANAPL. So if you care about such things, get professional advice.
  • Delphion http://www.delphion.com/ [delphion.com] is the best patent search tool there is, IMO. It's $200 USD per month. At the price of filing a patent, it's a bargain. FreePatentsOnline http://www.freepatentsonline.com/ [freepatentsonline.com] is not nearly as slick, but it's free. I used to use Delphion, I love it--especially the 'snapshot' feature which lets you find out who's doing what very easily. I use freepatentsonline now since I don't have an employer paying for Delphion, it works.

    Be warned, prior art search is itself an art. If

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