Expert Patent Searchers are Creative Thinkers
Patent searching is both an art and a science. It requires structure and process, but simply following a defined series of steps for every search is not going to produce the precise, thorough results needed to make informed corporate decisions or legal arguments. The structured approach of the scientist is important, but an excellent searcher must also demonstrate the insights and flashes of brilliance usually associated with the artistic genius. In this article, we cover the role of creative thinking in supporting positive search outcomes for customers.
Why is Creative Thinking So Important?
The ability to think creatively is one of the most critical, but least celebrated, characteristics that an excellent patent searcher must have. The primary goal of any search is to uncover references that precisely meet the customer’s requirements. An ordinary search following a formulaic, defined search process will find the low-hanging fruit that could be quickly located by anyone – and is likely already known to the customer.
A more creative mindset is required when a searcher must delve further and deeper into the literature to locate stronger, less obvious references. In many cases, it may not be possible to find the “perfect” reference, so taking a creative approach is necessary to identify and pinpoint the “next best” reference.
Creative thinking is also important for other reasons:
- Data overload – The volume of patent and non-patent technical literature available to a searcher is huge and growing every day. In such an environment, it is critical for a searcher to determine carefully and creatively the resources that should be included in each search.
- Budget restrictions – Searches are performed within defined time and budget restrictions. No searcher ever has the luxury of dedicating unlimited hours to a single search. They must think creatively to develop an efficient approach that makes the best use of their available time. The objective is to find a needle in a haystack, as quickly as possible.
- Mid-course corrections – A searcher who is thinking creatively makes adjustments on the fly over the course of a search based on interim results. Creativity can lead to unexpected discoveries that would not otherwise be found and that might not have been considered without making course corrections after a search begins.
Why is a Creative Mindset a Must Throughout the Search Process?
Creative thinking must be applied continuously throughout any given search, from the initial understanding of the customer’s requirements to the performance of the actual research. Just like an artist working on masterpiece, a searcher cannot make one creative decision and then abandon their creative approach. To be effective, they must get inside the heads of the customer, inventors, academics, and attorneys who produce the world’s patent and non-patent technical literature – requiring a level of empathy and understanding that often goes unrecognized.
Some of the aspects of search best practices where creativity comes into play include:
- Understanding the customer’s technical needs – An excellent searcher will review the subject matter provided by the customer and assess the parameters to identify all the variants of the product or of the inventive concept that should be considered. Proactive engagement with the customer on an in-depth discussion to brainstorm the most applicable variants is often critical.
- Understanding patent law and the customer’s legal and business objectives – The creative searcher most also apply their understanding of patent law and of the customer’s underlying legal or business need to determine which variants to include in the search strategy to produce the best results. The searcher’s objective is to think like the customer and apply the same interpretation and judgment that the customer would if they were doing the search themselves.
- Identifying resources –Searchers must also apply a creative mindset when selecting the specific patent and non-patent technical literature resources that they will target. The searcher must get inside the minds of the authors and publishers of these resources to determine (1) how they would describe the product or inventive concept in question, and (2) in what resources relevant art is most likely to be found.
In addition to these key, high-level applications of creative thinking, this mindset is critical during every step of the search process. Creativity is essential to developing the detailed search strategy, including keyword definition, identifying classifications to search, and determining appropriate use of bibliographic and citation searching. When evaluating references, searchers will frequently be called upon to think creatively about how broadly they can interpret claim language. Some searchers may even apply their creative abilities to develop customized tools that make their research more efficient.
Can Creative Thinking be Taught?
The short answer is no. Creativity is absolutely essential to excellent searching, but it is not innate for every searcher. Even someone with a strong technical background is not likely to produce outstanding results following the same formula every day on every search.
However, here are some tips on how CPA Global supports our searchers on building creativity into search on a daily basis:
- Top of Mind – We insist on applying creative thinking in every aspect of the search process from day one with every new searcher. Problem solving and overcoming roadblocks are second nature to individuals with a technical background, and search analysts may just need to be reminded to use that same approach with their search projects.
- Collaborate – We encourage searchers to ask their colleagues with backgrounds in both the same technology and different technologies for advice and guidance on specific search issues and to share best practices with one another.
- Customer-centric – We train our searchers to always keep the customer in mind. Thinking creatively to find the best available references to meet the customer’s need is critical, and the ability to make an obviousness argument based on the requirements of the project allows us to explain the result to the customer.
It is our firm belief that patent searchers simply cannot deliver the results that customers require without exercising art and science in equal measure. We specifically recruit for both characteristics during our hiring process and promote them on an ongoing basis, so our searchers are able to consistently deliver search results that meet the precise needs of our corporate and law firm customers.