What is a Clearance Search?

A patent clearance search, also referred to as a freedom to operate search or FTO search, is used to determine whether a product will infringe upon the rights of an already existing patent. It is a precautionary measure used by companies to avoid patent infringement claims, especially during the initial stage of launching a product. Simply put, patent clearance searches are conducted in order to minimize the fear of being sued for infringement and increase the chances that the patent will be approved by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). 

Key Takeaways

  • A patent clearance search, also known as a freedom to operate search or FTO search, is a method used to determine whether a product will infringe upon the rights of an existing patent.
  • Properly conducting patent clearance searches helps lower the chances that an infringement lawsuit will be filed against an individual or business.
  • It is highly recommended to carry out a patent clearance search before launching a new product.

How Patent Clearance Searches Work

Patent clearance searches are typically performed by checking various forms of patent records such as international records, expired patents, patents pending and infringement cases. Although you could technically perform this analysis on your own, it is highly advised to consult with a patent attorney or professional patent clearance search firm instead.

Considering how thorough and time-consuming these searches are, they can be quite expensive. They may cost anywhere between $3,000 and $30,000 per patent. A main reason for these high costs is that patent clearance search firms often guarantee positive results. In other words, if the firm conducts a successful patent clearance search but the applicant’s patent application ends up getting rejected, he or she may be able to sue the firm.

Despite their cost, patent clearance searches are almost always recommended before launching any new product or design. It can help save thousands of dollars in legal fees in the future by avoiding patent infringement cases.

Patent Clearance Searches vs. Prior Art Searches

While both tests are important stages in the patent application process, you should not confuse a patent clearance search with a prior art search. A patent clearance search is much more extensive than a prior art search. Prior art searches only determine whether the final version of an identical or nearly identical product has been publicly disclosed in the past. On the other hand, patent clearance searches review both existing, pending and expired patents to determine whether some component or process of a product has already been patented. Patent clearance searches also allow the applicant to contact other patent holders to discuss licensing their intellectual property.

Bottom Line

The patent application process can seem overwhelming at first because of the multitude of steps involved. This journey, however, does not have to be a lonely one. Attorney At Law’s expert intellectual property lawyers are here to help you navigate your way through the United States patent system with ease.

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