Every single day new technologies emerge around the world. This trend is associated with the rapid progress that we owe to the internet, and with the natural human tendency to try to make life easier. Not all new inventions are as ground-breaking as electricity or radio, but their inventors are invariably eager to derive benefits from them, which they hope will reward months or even years of their work. Thus, the number of patent applications and granted patents that make up the collections of patent literature is on the rise. Inventions described in such documents can be searched using patent databases. One may search patent literature for a variety of purposes; this is done under patent research.

What is state-of-the-art research?

State-of-the-art research involves determining the current state of the art in a particular field of interest based on the available patent literature. Our experience shows that patent literature research is highly recommended for most patent applicants. However, it is the need to search the state of the art that is truly crucial for start-ups.

Inventors and their hatching enterprises, i.e. start-ups, whose business is based on a proprietary technical solution are often convinced that the solution they have developed is one of its kind. Such a conviction, however, may bear bitter consequences, as hundreds of thousands of technical solutions continuously pop up all over the world. This sometimes leads to research work being duplicated, or research on a particular solution being conducted simultaneously by multiple teams around the world in competition with one another. Therefore, start-ups should consider conducting state-of-the-art research at the very initial stage of creative work instead of becoming engrossed with a non-innovative project. Moreover, such state-of-the-art research will allow start-ups to gain an insight into particular field of technology, identify niches in the industry that present room for improvement, spot trends, and, as a result, determine the direction that concept development should take. First and foremost, however, state-of-the-art research will help answer the question of whether it will pay to make further investments, usually involving large amounts of money, in this particular solution, or perhaps a better alternative would be to find another idea.

Importantly, state-of-the-art research should not only be conducted at the initial development stage of a start-up. Especially when dealing with complex, multi-stage technologies, patent literature research at R&D stage can help expedite the process. One should keep in mind that no less than 80% of the technical legacy of mankind is to be found in patent literature. It contains, for example, a ready recipe for one of the many stages of organic synthesis known for years, so why would anyone force an open door!? Similarly, state of the art encompasses many types of drug delivery forms applicable with our active substance, or data transfer methods useful for a desired structure function. Research of the state-of-the-art technology can therefore potentially uncover a known solution suitable for use in less substantial stages of technology. In this case too, one should check whether using this solution does not violate the rights of third parties.

The state-of-the-art research report is used as a document necessary or recommended when applying for grants from EU or similar funds. The results of the state-of-the-art research may provide a basis for advanced analyses such as an assessment of patentability or patent clearance, which makes a report from such research a highly valuable instrument for prospective investors. After all, development work is only a stage of start-up life, and once a product/technology is developed, it is time for commercialisation. And that is the final goal to be pursued.

The state-of-the-art study is universal enough to make it a wise decision to pursue even after the solution is brought to the market. The purpose of such research may then be to identify competitors, become familiar with their market behaviour (assuming that they seek patent protection for the marketed solutions), and monitor the development of the field of the technology in which the start-up operates. Inventors equipped with such information are better prepared to improve and adapt their solutions to current demand.

State-of-the-art research is one of a number of basic patent studies. Nowadays, it should also be a tool for planning new product/technology development. For start-ups, whose very existence is based on an innovative solution, it would be risky and unreasonable, to say the least, not to use readily available technical literature.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.