Dealing with Patents

I have a business idea that has potential market. The business relies on a design that could be patented. After a patent search, I saw similar innovation patented by few people in 1996, 2003, 2006, 2008. I might require a IP lawyer if I goforth with this venture. But, is there a way to get around patents or do you have to pay royalties for every one who has similar patents. I was puzzled to see how 4 or 5 people have similar patents, does it mean a slight difference in innovation can be patented?

The question will really come down to if you are using someone elses IP, or if you are doing something similar. The fact that they are “similar” might mean they serve a similar function, but achieve it in slightly different fashions. If your invention achieves something similar in a different way then you may be able to get around those patents.

Realistically you should talk to an IP lawyer around it with specifics.

I second cyberdemon, see a lawyer.

However, the critical part of an utility patent are the “claims” section. Generally, patents are very specific. Therefore, you can have a very similar solution patented for multiple applications (ie different patents for a hockey visor, construction visor and football visor, even though they all maybe the same basic construction). Also, in the case of complicated designs, it may be possible to only make a very small modification to create a “new” design.

Your lawyer will also help you find out whether the patent holder is enforcing the patent, because if they are not, they cannot suddenly choose to start. A patent must be defended all the time, or none of the time. You can also look into who the owner is, some people who don’t really understand patents can be suckered into a long and drawn out legal battle that leaves them with the law on their side, but with no money to pay legal bills, forcing them to sell the patent to you anyway, and a reduced rate.

I worked at a company who’s competitor was or wasn’t infringing, but the competitor was larger with more resources, so they just counter-sued, and have had the company tied up in legal battles for about 4 years, and counting.

Thanks for the replies and great information. I am searching for similar patents and when this is a sure shot, I will seek a lawyer.
Also, can services and interaction design be patented?

It depends. The US allows method patents (Amazon’s one-click patent is the most notorious example) . But that typically isn’t the case in most of the rest of the world. There are some exceptions and fine print though… depends on the exact nature of the claim.