Exploring Patent Relationships to Enhance Understanding
Innovation is a process that requires continually building on existing ideas and applying our current knowledge to produce something new. The patent documents of the world tell the story of our technological progress. While an individual patent may be a very limited snapshot of a moment in time in a certain field, patents, viewed collectively, have profound relationships to those filed before, as well as those filed later. By navigating those relationships, patent professionals can research with greater efficiency and develop a better understanding of their invention and its place in the process of innovation.
A backward citation (also known as a “reverse” citation) is a reference in a patent’s file wrapper to an earlier-filed patent or non-patent document. Backward citations often include those references that are disclosed either by an inventor or prosecuting attorney who has a duty to disclose any material prior art that is known to them. They may also reference any prior art that a patent examiner found to be material to their patentability analysis in conducting a prior art search.
Backward citations are important because they help tell the story of the invention described in a patent document. Backward-cited references illustrate the progress that has been made over time. They also reveal how concepts and ideas have been used or combined from earlier inventions to produce something new. With that in mind, patent professionals can use backward citations to gain a better understanding of an invention, the inventive step that was needed to create it and the technological field to which it relates.
Once a patent application has been filed and published, it may become prior art to later-filed patent documents and the inventions they disclose. Being publicly available, the ideas contained in published patent documents often become foundational to later innovations by either inspiring new improvements to old inventions or by inspiring something new altogether. Forward citations tell us how many and which later-filed patent documents cite to a specific patent document, and many use a patent’s forward citations as an indicator of its value, reasoning that a patent that is cited frequently by other patents is probably fundamental or important to subsequent innovation. While using forward citations for patent valuations is controversial, patent professionals can use forward citations to help identify significant patent documents when conducting patent searches, as well as to help them understand the course taken by technological development.
There are many reasons an inventor might file several patent applications for a particular invention. Domestically, an inventor may end up filing several patent applications that have the same priority claim, such as when a continuation is filed to pursue additional claims, or a divisional patent application is filed to carve out a distinct invention from a parent application. An inventor may also file identical patent applications in multiple countries to ensure that the geographic scope of their patent protection meets their needs. Together, all of the filings that pertain to a single invention are considered to be a “family.” Patent families can be used to help patent practitioners determine the scope of protection that was attained by an inventor and better advise their clients on where they can operate without infringing on existing patent rights.
Exploring Relationships With LexisNexis TotalPatent One®
The TotalPatent One® patent search platform helps patent professionals explore patent relationships by allowing users to access documents from over 100 worldwide authorities, while making it simple to navigate networks of documents with backward, forward and familial patent citations. The intuitive TotalPatent One interface, which is known for providing important information in an easily understood format, groups and displays a patent document’s citations and family references for quick and convenient access.
By allowing users to navigate directly to the full documents of each cited document and family reference, users gain a better understanding of how an invention was conceived, how it was protected and the impact it had on later development.
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