Should an inventor search for prior art before applying for a patent?

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Inventions that are not novel cannot be patented, but sometimes an inventor who has spent months working on a new product won’t have realized that someone else has already invented the same thing.  In order to ensure that an invention is able to be patented, it is always advisable to first search for prior art that makes the invention not novel.

Even if no similar product has been brought to market, it doesn’t mean that a patent hasn’t been granted for it.  Many inventors or companies will patent ideas that they then neglect to commercialize for many years.  It is not safe to assume that your invention can be patented simply because nobody else is selling a similar product.

An inventor concerned that there might be prior art should enlist the help of a lawyer to search for prior inventions published in the patent gazettes.  These patent gazettes are now published online and the search can be conducted relatively quickly.  This is the same process that a patent examiner goes through before deciding whether to grant a patent and, if no prior art can be found in the gazettes, then it is likely that the invention will be considered novel.

If you have any questions about patent law in Japan, please contact our office for a legal consultation.