Top 5 Worst Mistakes in a Patent Search

Mistakes were made. Occasionally we all mess up. When millions of dollars of patent lawsuits could be hanging in the air depending on your patent search, it’s not an ideal time to commit an error and “score on your own net.”

Still, mistakes are part of life, and it’s best to be able to recognize areas in which you might be most prone to making mistakes. Are you lax when communicating with your client (internal or external)? Identifying areas for improvement can lead to a more considerate course of action, which can cut down on mistakes. Double check that email or have a co-worker do it (and help them in return!).

One time I was assigned a search which required clearing a priority date (such as you would find in a Validity search) and I happened to find the perfect reference (maybe some of you can already see where this is going). All the features matched the patent which I was comparing it (with only one or two exceptions)! It fit so neatly. It came time for me to fill out a report citing the bibliographic information from my reference and I realized in horror that my reference missed the priority date by a mere month. I quickly scrambled back to the reference’s patent family in search of a related document that would clear the date only to come up empty handed. I had lost all the time and effort dedicated to using my now irrelevant reference. It ended up being a long night as I scrambled to put the pieces back together and finish the search.

Thankfully I’ve learned how to become more efficient and double-check my work as I go along, but this is only one kind of error that can be made during a patent search. Read on to find out the five worst mistakes you can make in the process of doing a patent search (and what you can do, should they happen).


1. Forgetting to check the date – As I just mentioned, not checking your priority date (or another date important to the client) is something that can cost you a lot of time and effort. If you miss it completely, it could cost you even more since you’ve just delivered a useless product. If you discover this mistake, check the family information of your incorrect reference. You could get lucky and find a similar patent document with an earlier date.

2. Making a typo – If unchecked, this can cause a lot of confusion. You may be presenting information from one patent in your report, but have the number of another patent document listed alongside. Your client goes to pull up the PDF of the document and is stumped when it has completely different information. Another example of this kind of mistake can occur when typing a search query. Befuddled as to why your search turned up zero hits? It could be a typo. Even worse is when your typo is covered up by Boolean logic such as OR which will still return hits (although not the full range you wanted). Typos in patent numbers, other bibliographic information, and queries can be hard to spot with the naked eye, so a little careful preparation goes a long way to avoiding this mistake.

3. Not understanding the client’s needs – Didn’t realize the client wanted a full-text search? You only cited examples from the Claims section of patent documents and it’s not a Freedom-to-Operate search? It’s best to be explicit and get on the same page as the client from the get go rather than having an uncomfortable conversation after you thought you had finished your job (only to find out you have much more to do, perhaps at your expense).

4. Searching the wrong authorities – This can happen as a cousin to the previous mistake, due to poor communication. Missing the fact that your client needs Italian references to support a lawsuit in Italy could be a crucial mistake and erase all of the usefulness of your work. Again, it’s best to be clear from the outset rather than scrambling for family equivalents (which might not really be equivalent) after the fact.

5. Missing the deadline – A no-no in any service industry, missing deadlines (even tight deadlines) is a major mistake. Because they are tied to legal services, some patent searches just cannot be postponed, delayed, or extended. Make sure that any issue that could put your deadline into question is addressed with your client. You may or may not have that wiggle room available.

Have you fallen prey to any of these mistakes? Do you have any more to add to this list of maladies? Tell us your horror stories below!

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This post was edited by Intellogist Team member Chris Jagalla. The Intellogist blog is provided for free by Intellogist’s parent company, Landon IP, a major provider of patent search, technical translation, and information services.

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5 Responses

  1. […] aside some of the worst mistakes you can make in a patent search, let’s focus on resolutions that will put our best foot […]

  2. Apart from human errors, the worst mistake one can make in a patent search is not only checking and double-checking with your client WHAT is needed, but especially also WHY it is needed. Remember that a client is not in need of e.g. a novelty search, but wants to know whether an invention which can make the difference for his/her business can be patented.
    Moreover, most clients are not aware of the difference between different kinds of searches, and it is imperative that you take the lead in translating your client’s need into a search request.
    What I always do after receiving a request is interviewing the client (either face-to-face or on the telephone) to elucidate what is really needed and why, followed by (and I think this is the most important step) sending a summary of the request which can be also a price quotation for the search. Only after confirmation by the client I start to do the actual search work.

    • Peer, you are so right!

      Often times a client will think they know what kind of search they want until you dig a little deeper and get to know why they want it. A little work upfront goes a long way to alleviate false expectations about what types of searches are accomplishing what goals.

  3. […] Top 5 Worst Mistakes in a Patent Search – “Not understanding the client’s needs” was a favorite of many on LinkedIn, as they shared their stories and the difficulties that come along with communication prior to the search. […]

  4. […] patent searching that are important, yet non-obvious (pardon the pun). As I discussed in the “Top 5 Worst Mistakes in a Patent Search” post, two of the foundations to a good patent search are effective communication and […]

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