Expired patents may put invention in public domain

Many people do a Google patent search to see if a patent already exists that describes their invention idea or something close to it. When they locate one or more patents, they automatically presume that they will be unable to proceed. I disagree with this logic, as there may turn out to be no prohibition from practicing the invention in the patent you found online. Google patent searches are useful, but they do not tell the whole story and can lead you to disregard potential opportunities if you don’t know what else to look for.

A freedom to operate search involves the inquiry into whether or not particular patents may have expired and may be available in the public domain for subsequent commercialization. About 50% of patents expire prematurely because the patent owners choose to not pay the maintenance fees. Thus, the result of the inquiry is often in your favor and you can use the technology without paying licensing fees or fear of an infringement action.

I suggest that if you are going to do a Google patent search on your own, take time to look beyond the claims to determine if your invention idea may be patentable. If you want a more definitive answer, hiring an attorney to run a freedom to operate search is a good idea. While the search results are not a guarantee one way or another, the attorney can put her experience and expertise behind her to give a more accurate picture of your situation.