It seems to me that large firms that are hiring several patent lawyers might do well to add temporary assignments that would cycle through engineering personnel to:
1. search for public disclosures that would invalidate competitors' patents, and
2. become more familiar with the patent system and what patents were present in their field of expertise.
I could not even dream that ALL of the patents in a typical engineer's fields of expertise could be found and documented in such a manner or even just known to a given engineer. However, being familiar with the flaws and weaknesses in the patent system also allows an engineer to better understand what and why he is documenting in his work.
It is my considered opinion that the problem today is that too much has been patented to allow patents to have anywhere near the effect they were intended by the US Constitution. Today, even the examiners are often just lucky if they can find the patent that would invalidate a given application. The use of inventor-specific terms and phrases, in a few cases that I observed while searching patents years ago, can and sometimes is abused to make the searcher's job more difficult by renaming a commonly described and otherwise commonly named item or process. This is in part why Microsoft's Design Patents, when coupled with Utility Patents, can be very helpful. Pictures or drawings that match are fairly easily correlated by examiners and juries. On the other hand, "manually operated ink applicator with spherical application element" is much more difficult to discern as a "ball-point pen". Further, features that are inherent in a prior patented design may be claimed in a different inventor's patent if the examiner cannot discern that he has been so manipulated. In this type of case, either the courts would sort it out or the assignee of the original patent might find it less expensive to pay the extortion of the manipulating inventor's assignee.
Yep, far from perfect!
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