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By Richard Gearhart
Founding Partner

When clients come to Gearhart Law, we first take a look at their project to see if we think it’s patentable, as there are many rules around patentability.  If it is believed to be patentable, we always recommend a patent search first so they don’t waste money on something they can’t get a patent for if the search comes back unfavorable.

What if the search does come back unfavorably?  Do you have to abandon your project completely?  Not necessarily.  If you still want to proceed, there are a number of options available to you:

Freedom to Operate Opinion – a previously issued patent may be blocking you from getting your own patent, but if it’s expired (20 years from the filing date) or lapsed (the maintenance fees weren’t paid) and there’s nothing else blocking you, then you’re free to pursue your project, albeit without utility patent protection.  In that case, you’ll have to depend on your brand to differentiate your business and on your trademark to protect your intellectual property.

If you can’t get a utility patent but your product has distinguishing visual features, you may be able to get a design patent.  A design patent protects the ornamental features of a product and is used by many businesses, either by itself or in conjunction with other intellectual property protections.

You may be able to reengineer your invention to design around existing patents, but thiscan be tricky.

If there’s no patent blocking you may choose to use trade secret protection.  There are rules for this and it is possible to keep others from stealing your idea if you can prove they had access to it through you.

If you want help deciding the best way protect your valuable intellectual property or have other IP questions, call us at 908-273-0700 for a free consultation.  We’d be happy to help you!

About the Author
Richard Gearhart, Esq. is the founder of Gearhart Law and the host of a weekly radio show for entrepreneurs called “Passage to Profit”. He has built a firm with an international presence that helps entrepreneurs from around the world with their patent, trademark and copyright needs. Richard commands a breadth of experience that comes from nearly 30 years of practice in the writing and prosecution of hundreds of patents, and in all aspects of Intellectual Property law. In 2022, Richard was recognized by ROI New Jersey as a 2022 ROI Influencer in the Law List category for being one of the best of the best in New Jersey for intellectual property law. Gearhart Law emerged from Richard’s passion for entrepreneurship and startups and his belief that entrepreneurship grows the economy and creates jobs. When we started Gearhart Law, our goal was to help and support the new business ventures of 500 entrepreneurs and inventors. After 12 years, the firm has far surpassed this goal; today, we look forward to helping even more inventors and entrepreneurs get off to a great start and reach their own goals.