Freedom to operate analysis
A freedom to operate analysis—or landscape analysis—is a study of the patent environment in a particular technology area. If doing a landscape analysis, it’s important to first create a strategy based upon the needs and circumstances of the business and then conduct a search to find relevant patents and pending applications. In other words, tailor your search; it isn’t practical—especially for an early stage company on a budget—to just search the patents covering an entire field or industry. From those search results, you can analyze what patents have issued, what is protected, what applications are published, what protection is sought, who owns the patents and/or applications, and when the applications were filed and patents granted.
Companies use landscape analyses for a variety of purposes. For example, you can identify the major players in your field. A landscape analysis can also identify patents owned by others that might be an issue for your business. The analysis can also uncover important patent trends. For example, simply knowing the number of issued patents and/or pending applications addressing a particular problem may help you decide how to dedicate resources to that problem. If the field is too crowded, you may elect to invest those resources on other areas.
Finally, the patents and applications discovered during the search may qualify as prior art against your own patent applications. Knowing whether there is a lot of prior art can save you time and money that may otherwise be wasted by pursuing a patent that ultimately won’t be granted.