The Significance of Freedom to Operate Searches for Design Patents

Design patents are frequently enforced against operating entities, either alone or in combination with utility patents. Thus, successful operations should be careful to obtain freedom to operate searches that include design patents. A freedom-to-operate search identifies active patents having claim language that your business may infringe upon. Further, a freedom to operate search has the additional layer of examination of expired prior art, which are in the public domain, and are thus free to use. Optimally, a freedom to operate search should include every country in which the technology is practiced. To ensure thorough searching of design patents in every country, the search should include both U.S. and international classification. The Locarno International Classification System is an international classification for designs that is administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization. Although it is substantially parallel to the U.S. patent classification system. However, the U.S. patent classification system has far more subclasses, thus requiring careful identification of the best fit subclasses in both systems to ensure a thorough yet efficient freedom to operate search. Having a freedom to operate search provides your business with a reassuring view of the closest design patents that may be enforced. It can save significant expenses by either providing you with the belief that there are not any design patents enforceable against your business or by identifying potentially concerning patents to allow for upfront licensing instead of costly litigation.

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