How to Refine Your Initial Patent Description
In a previous blog entry, I offered some suggestions on writing your initial patent description. I offered five initial questions to answer as part of that description. I also offered encouragement to not be overly concerned about the exact language in the initial description as it is designed to simply get your search efforts jump-started.
The other reason to not fret over the details of the initial description is that the process of a prior art search is usually lengthy and iterative. In other words, the initial search results start the process and offer results that often lead to tweaking your keyword searches and even modifying or re-writing the initial description. So, let’s discuss how you can refine your initial patent description. Here are two search steps and then possible rewrite actions to refine the content… based on the search results:
Examine the general details of the results returned by your first document. Try different subsets of all 20 keywords from your description to see which keyword combinations locate the most relevant documents. Use the KSC results to see specifically which sentences in your original document contained the most or least useful keywords. KSC should help you understand how your sentences relate to the search results.
If the sentences with the keywords which produced the least useful results describe part or all of your unique idea, then maybe others have not published your idea. However, other inventors or document authors may have used different words for the same terms. Try using synonyms for your terms (OR words) to perform a more complete search. Some of the relevant documents you found might suggest synonyms for your terminology.
Refine – in an iterative manner as needed. You may want to reword or add or remove some of the sentences in your description to distinguish your idea from the published art. Your ultimate goal is to do a detailed examination on as few as possible prior art documents as part of this initial search effort. Thus, by adding some sentences that offer more details, you can usually reduce the number of prior art possibilities.
However, if you have no results returned using only a few keywords; then consider using synonyms for your keywords. Also remember that use of a term in a particular technology may change over 20 or 30 years. Further, the free on-line technology databases usually only go back to the 1960 or 1970s. The USPTO allows searching patent descriptions back to 1976. They have on-line images of older patents. If you have a new idea for very old technology, such as a steam engine, then you may need to consider visually searching in patent classes for that technology.
When you have narrowed your search results to a manageable number for you, then examine the specific details of the most relevant documents to see if your idea is unique. Study complete documents and all components of a relevant patent. This study may lead you to additional search terms, synonyms, and keyword combinations and even to rewrite parts of your description.
If you don’t find any prior art documents, then you can be encouraged that your idea might, indeed, be unique.However, a close examination of “similar” ideas might encourage you to modify your design and description to further underscore its uniqueness. Here again, the use of synonyms may help you explore wider possibilities and assist you in expanding and refining your description. Your goal is to have some confidence your idea has unique aspects in light of what has already been published.
If you find some prior art documents, then this result does not necessarily mean you have to abandon your dream. Study these documents and consider ways to modify your idea/invention and then rewrite your description accordingly.