District Heights, MD asked in Patents (Intellectual Property) for Maryland

Q: I have tried USPTO recomended methods; Is there any other way to look up a specific item's patent number?

"Sterling Games 3 in 1 Chess Table" Is the product I altered for prototype; I emailed company I purchased from, they transferred me to manufacturer but no luck. The USPTO gives me plenty of examples of similar products, but not the exact one that I altered. Thanks for your any advice

2 Lawyer Answers
Peter D. Mlynek
Peter D. Mlynek
  • Patents Lawyer
  • Moorestown, NJ

A: Every patented product should have the patent information attached to it. If the product is such that it is not possible to attach patent information to it, then it should be on the packaging or any attached literature. Finally, recently it became legal to list on the product just a URL which points to the patent information.

Thus, my suggestion is to look carefully on the product itself, then on the packaging, and finally on the manufacturer's website. It is also possible that the table is simply not covered by a patent.

Kevin E. Flynn
Kevin E. Flynn
  • Patents Lawyer
  • Chapel Hill, NC

A: The first answer given is correct and in most instances this will be sufficient. It is likely to be the best answer for a game table that is unlikely to be subject to a method patent.

Let me add a few nuances. For most products, if there is a patent, it is likely to have claims on an item or apparatus and should be marked with a patent number or a URL (web page address) where you can find the patent information. Sometimes, the invention is covered by method claims and these claims do not need to be marked on the item. So while looking for patent marking will work almost all the time, there are exceptions.

For instance a child's oven that cooks a cake with a light bulb might have a method patent for a process of cooking a cake using the heat from a light bulb. Technically, the oven would not need to be marked with the method patent number (although I would encourage clients to mark with something like "May be used to perform the method of US Pat. No. X,XXX,XXX").

In some instances, it is hard to get a patent on a set of relatively generic pieces but one can get a patent on an unusual assembly of pieces. (Think of the end of the game Mouse Trap). Technically, the box as shipped is not infringing the patent for the final assembly and would not need to be marked. (Again, I would encourage marking to allow others to know of the assembly patent).

You can do some additional searching for patents or published applications using the tools described in my slide set on patent searching. http://bit.ly/Patent_Searching.

As a cross-check, you can look to see what patents or pending applications are assigned to the manufacturer. See slides starting at slide 70 of the search slide set.

Finally, let me note that there may not yet be a patent but a pending application may be in the pipeline. Sometimes it may take years to obtain a patent. Congress wants the PTO to get the process done in three years, but often the process takes longer. So using the search tips set out in the slide set, you may find the published application and then use PAIR to see if the application has been abandoned.

Some applications opt out of the publication process so do not get published 18 months into the application process. Unfortunately, you cannot see these applications unless and until they pop up as an issued patent. So people like you that are trying to do the right thing can only reduce risk not eliminate risk of patent problems.

I hope this helps.

Kevin E Flynn

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