As is true for Internet research in general, the Internet is becoming an increasingly valuable tool for locating patent-related information. There are numerous reasons why a business owner may want to research patent information. A general understanding of United States or foreign patent laws may be desired, or actual patents or technical information may be sought out to determine whether an invention is potentially patentable, or potentially infringes another’s patent. Patent searching may also be conducted to find patents or other published material that may potentially invalidate another’s patent, such as a competitor, and may also be used to assess the proprietary positions of other companies.
Likewise, companies that may potentially have inventive ideas should consider placing restrictions on how information relating to the ideas is disseminated. Information that is randomly placed on company web sites without purging innovative ideas runs the risk that the information may later be used to invalidate a patent relating to the ideas. Courts have expanded the idea of what constitutes “prior art” to include information that is retrieved from the Internet. Prior art includes publications, patents or devices that were publicly known before filing of the patent application. In order to ensure that protection for inventions is not jeopardized, businesses must be careful when placing information online.
One popular Internet site for patent information is the USPTO web site, which can be found at www.uspto.gov. The U.S. Government provides free access to the United States patent database, which includes full text and images of U.S. patents issued since January 1, 1976. Access to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) PCT Patent Gazette is also provided, which allows searching of foreign patent applications filed in accordance with the Patent Cooperation Treaty. The USPTO web site also provides a wide variety of other information related to the patenting process.