by Dennis Crouch
A good freedom-to-operate (FTO) search will include a search of pending patent applications with an eye toward potential future threats. Over the past decade, the USPTO has published over 2.5 million patent applications. One problem with using that database for freedom-to-operate searches is that most of the published applications are either (1) already patented or (2) abandoned. Over the past three months (June – August 2010), for instance, about 80,000 published applications were “disposed of.” If we include unpublished applications, during that period, 36,862 US utility patent applications were abandoned and 62,686 utility patents were issued.
Patent academics argue about the vague nature of pending applications (largely because claims can be modified prior to issuance). However, up to now, the database of published applications has been difficult to use as a FTO search database for a far simpler reason — most of the results in a patent application search are for applications that are no longer pending. Those concluded cases unnecessarily clog the results.
As far as I know, no search-software-vendor has taken on the task of offering US patent application search results that include only pending applications. Part of the difficulty of accomplishing that result is that it has been difficult to identify which applications have been abandoned.
As part of its data transparency project, the USPTO recently began publishing a list of abandoned patent applications. [LINK]. In the near future, I expect that this newly available data will be helping to facilitate your FTO searches.
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