There's the idea to build a business out of, but how would I know I'm not infringing any of those thousands of applications and grants? It seems to be impossible to read the claims in all of those in details. I'm interested to know what the routine is here as I've never done it before and I do not want to introduce any issues relating to infringement, so what are my options of preventing legal actions and reasonable loyalties?

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The typical approach is to perform a "freedom-to-operate" analysis. You can take a crack at this yourself using patent searching tools like Google Patents or my preference The Lens. Patent searching is a skill so I would advise starting with a broad search and when you find patents that are relevant (not necessarily the same idea, but with some similarities) then look at those patent's citations. After a few rounds of this you can get a rough idea of what is out there. When you look at a patent, don't read the whole thing. I usually read the abstract and then go straight to the claims. Focus on the independent claims. Those are the ones that don't reference other claims. If you can't figure out the claims, then reviewing the figures and text of the patent might be necessary.

Interpreting claims is a another skill and you may need professional help to do an adequate job of it. In any case doing your own search first will make consulting with a patent attorney or agent more efficient and thus less expensive. If there is a specific patent or two you need help interpreting, then posting a question on this site might be a good step.

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    So depending on how popular the idea is, there will be more patents to figure out and there are lots of possibilities for going way above a thousand. In this case, it's all about narrowing down the patents but AFAIK you can be sued for breaking a single claim in any patent so narrowing down too much may be a downfall, correct? – user Feb 19 at 20:26
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    Some people chose to just develop their product and market it and hope that when they are big enough to be noticed they will be big enough to modify their design or otherwise address the issue. Freedom to operate searches don't just relate to the cool part of your product. I boring part, let's say tire tread pattern, on a jet powered ATV could be infringed. – George White Feb 19 at 21:03
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    @user I wish it were easier, but it isn't. While you can be sued for infringing on a single claim, you should remember that to infringe a claim, you need to implement each and every step of the claim. Long complicated claims are actually easier to circumvent then short ones. – Eric Shain Feb 19 at 21:14
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    @user, as you rightly said there are lots of possibilities and this can go way over a thousand. So even after conducting an analysis, you cannot be absolutely sure that you are not infringing any patent. A few points for you to consider - a) as you build your product, technical direction may evolve and it may not be feasible to undertake infringement study each time there is a change, b) – iktaara Feb 20 at 5:08
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    Why do you recommend Google Patents and why do you prefer Lens? – Mikk Putk Feb 20 at 15:26

At first it depends in which countries is your market, i.e. in which countries you are planning to start your business. You may start patent search in random patent databases to get some preliminary overview about possible relevant patent documents, but finally you need to analyze the legal and geographic protection coverage and statuses of critical patents in respect of those countries where you are planning to do your business (e.g. production, selling, etc.).

For that kind of patent search like freedom to operate, Google Patents may not be very good because the coverage of countries is relatively small, the search features are not very good and the content of Google Patents is not up to date.

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Whatever of free patent search tools or databases you use (Google Patents, The Lens, Espacenet, Patentscope, Depatisnet, PatentInspiration, etc), before detailed analysis and any decisions you always need to check national patent databases and registers also. Only national patent registers can give you most up to date and correct information.

When the possible critical and valid patents in relevant countries has been detected, then claim analysis and comparing with your products starts.

At the same time you need to continue monitoring publications of new patent applications.

But these are just few aspects to consider. To start, the best thing is to consult with patent attorney.

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    This is a very useful answer (+1). One small way to make it a bit more helpful would be to provide links to the databases cited. – Eric Shain Feb 20 at 18:35

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