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I am not a lawyer. I am doing some basic research about laser scanner patents (this is my first time). A laser scanner is a 3D scanner that shines a laser onto an object and uses the information captured to reconstruct the object. The technology has been around for a few decades.

When searching the USPTO site for (TTL/laser AND TTL/scanner) I found 364 patents, many of which are just titled "Laser scanner". Digging deeper into them, it looked like most of them used basically the same concept but with a small tweak that sometimes took me an hour to even find.

I'd like to understand more about this. Does this mean that if I make a minor tweak to the product, it would be non-infringing? If so, what is the process for me to determine that? And if not, then how do I reconcile the existence of so many patents and find out which (if any) applies. And what if our design overlaps with parts of some of the patents but not a single patent?

Thank you for your help

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Part of your question is answered here: how do I evaluate novelty?. I would recommend only asking one question at a time; perhaps focusing on one of the aspects not answered by the question linked above. –  Robert Cartaino Jan 24 '13 at 0:17
    
Thank you Robert, great link. –  aed Jan 24 '13 at 16:50

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There are two things about patents that are often confused with each other. In layman's terms people ask - How different does my thing need to be to get a patent? They also ask - How different does my thing need to be to not infringe someone else's patent? While they sound like related questions, they actually have nothing to do with each other at all.

You found patents on similar things, each with a different, patentable twist. If you want a patent you will need to come up with your own clever twist that is novel and not obvious.

Completely separately, if you want to make and sell something and not infringe any one else's rights that is a different question. Each issued patent has claims. Lets say a particular claim says it covers a thing that has an a, a b, and a c. If you sell something with an a, a b, and a c you probably infringe it. Adding a d or having a fancier c does not get you out from under it as long as you still have an a, a b, and a c. If you only have an a and a c with nothing like a b, then you probably do not infringe that claim.

The type of searching you need to do if you are going to produce something and want to be sure you are in the clear is called a freedom to operate search, in contrast to a novelty search. This search is only really possible after your product is very well determined. While it is the cool parts of your design that can get you a patent, any part of your shipping product might infringe someone else's patent. You invent a car that runs on orange juice but might have an infringing tail light design, for example.

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Thank you for the clear answer. A small clarification still needed: if patent 1 covers A, patent 2 covers A & B, and my product is A & B & C, then I may be able to file a patent for it. But I'd be infringing on both patent 1 & 2 if I attempt to produce it even though one is a refinement of the first? –  aed Jan 24 '13 at 16:45
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To put a fine point on it, if a claim says "a widget comprising (or including) an A and a B." then something made, sold etc. that had an A and a B would likely infringe. Rarely, a claim will say "a widget consisting of an A and a B". In that case, adding a C could get you out from under the claim. This form is found in chemical claims where adding another ingredient makes a different chemical with different properties. Or a three-wheeled car that is no longer three-wheeled if a fourth wheel is added. –  George White Jan 24 '13 at 18:02
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And "yes" to the question in the comment. A single product or activity can infringe multiple patents at the same time in the way you suggest. –  George White Jan 24 '13 at 19:51

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