AOP Community Resources

Background Research

Background Research Overview

In order to research a patent successfully, it is important to begin with a background search about the Study technology.  By gaining background knowledge of the technology, Researchers will be better equipped to determine where to search, what search terms to use, and which references are the most valuable. The knowledge gained in a strong background search will support your research in two primary ways:

  • It helps you understand which elements are the most important and where you may be able to find relevant technologies.
  • It gives you the ability to identify references that match the Study technology.

Without a clear understanding of the technology and industry, it can be extremely difficult to find relevant references and recognize when you’ve found a potential winning reference.

Getting Started

Your goal in a background search is to improve your understanding of the Study technology and patent.  This means that your background search should be based on the elements and claims listed in the Study.  In the background search, it is important to expand on that technology and investigate the industry that utilizes the technology and the history of its development.  Areas to investigate may include:

  • Inventors and researchers in the field of the technology
  • Companies and organizations that used or developed the technology
  • Journals and databases that specialize in the technology
  • Previous versions of the technology, and other factors that impacted the development
  • Alternative uses for the technology or related technologies that interact with the invention

In addition to the Study description, the patent is the best place to start because it holds the official definition of the technology.  The “Background of the Invention” section provides valuable insight into how the invention was developed.  It discusses the distinguishing features of similar inventions already known in the field, including the disadvantages or shortcomings of those earlier inventions compared to the features of the invention covered in the Study patent.  These details can help identify the aspects that make this patent unique, compared to any other previous technology.

Where to Search

Simple search engines and databases can be the most useful for finding simple technology explanations.  Keep in mind that the goal of this step is to learn about the technology.  While you may uncover relevant references during the background search, such references are more likely to provide value in guiding your search towards even better results.

Encyclopedias and instructional journals are the best places to start.  These resources are designed to teach the reader about any and all relevant aspects of the technology.  You can tailor your background search to your personal level of experience with the technology.

As you gain knowledge about the technology, you can narrow the focus of your background search based around the details of the Study.  Academic journals can provide a clear history of the technology and demonstrations of past research.  In addition, a review of product literature and company histories can provide insight into the commercial use of those technologies and any other inventions that may be connected through a company or industry’s research and development.

Preliminary Keywords

Background searching is the perfect time to develop your initial keyword list.  Your list of keywords drives your search and has a huge impact on whether your results are relevant to the Study.  The Study Description and patent are full of potential search terms, but it can be difficult to determine which are the most important.  Background searching allows you to understand what the keywords mean and how they relate to the technology.

Importantly, background searching allows you to identify keywords and search terms that are not found in the Study Description.  In some cases, this includes related technologies that may have an impact on your search.  However, the most frequent impact comes from synonyms.  Background searching helps you to determine if there are any synonyms that are frequently used in place of the keywords from the Study Description.  Synonyms may be based on varying industries, inventors, and even time periods.  For example, “smartphone” technology has a historical background in cell phones, mobile phones, land lines, PDAs, etc.  The most valuable references may have been invented long before the term “smartphone” was first used.

Once your knowledge and confidence in a chosen technical area has grown, it would be very useful to put this knowledge into practice. One way to do this is by participating in informal technical forums online.  Technical forums can be a valuable source for various search terms and leads because of the variety and expertise of the users.   Technical forums often involve detailed discussions by users who have years of experience in the area of technology, and therefore utilize an array of terminology.  They can also be a source for knowledge about potential search resources and tips for understanding a technology’s history.