Without a Blush: SexTech Patent Searches
Sextech is nothing new and no reason to get shy! I’ve been in this business for a long time*, so I’ve seen the reams of paper in this business gradually being replaced by electronic files and electronic access. If you think that patent searching is difficult now, you must not know how hard it used to be – especially for some areas of tech.
One type of innovation that was significantly affected by the computer and electronic revolution was SexTech, which includes such areas as teledildonics, virtual reality sex, and others. Back when I was getting started, SexTech was barely recognized as a field – but was already classified as an invention by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
The music-playing condom – US Patent No. 5163447
What this means is that it was already possible back then to get a patent for a SexTech device. But if you were an enterprising SexTech entrepreneur, how would you know if you were the first person to think of a new idea? Back then, as now, you would have to do a patent search. However, back then without the ability to search with computers, it was necessary to go to the USPTO – in person – and search through physical printouts of actual patents.
Looking for love in all the wrong places
For SexTech patents, this caused a problem for the USPTO. Rather than asking for copies of the relevant patents, some of the (perhaps embarrassed) patent attorneys/agents and inventors would just steal the patents to look through them elsewhere. So these patent records kept on disappearing! Other searchers couldn’t see the relevant SexTech patent prior art and the USPTO had to keep on replacing them.
The solution? One searcher who had actually worked in this area (and who will remain anonymous) told me that the USPTO moved all of the SexTech patents to the office of the Supervisory Primary Examiner in this area, so that the searchers had to go to her office and search only while she watched them.
What made it worse is that apparently the Supervisory Primary Examiner was very prim and buttoned-down, so that the searchers found themselves embarrassedly slinking into her office to ask to see “those patents”– and then slinking back out again after doing their search – all with the Supervisory Primary Examiner looking on.
Google as SexTech Industry Champion
Google revolutionized many areas of online searching – including patent searches. By including patents from many countries – including the US, Europe and China – Google has made it possible to search for patents and applications relating to your idea in the privacy of your own computer.
No more traveling to the US Patent and Trademark Office (now located in Alexandria, Virginia) or searching physical files. Google’s patent databases now rival those of more expensive subscription patent search databases – and they’re free. However, at least one patent attorney has warned that the Google patent database occasionally seems to have some odd holes of missing patents.
Still, to get started searching a SexTech invention (or any other invention for that matter), I do recommend starting with the basic Google patent search service – toss in some keywords and off you go! I found the above musical condom patent that way. Of course that’s only the beginning.
Many patent writers can use different words for the same concept so that simply using a few keywords that you know, even in the excellent Google patent search engine, may lead to missed results. To avoid this problem, trying multiple sets of keywords can help – but ultimately you need to use patent classification searching to go deeper. The US Patent and Trademark Office even offers a seven step guide to patent searching online.
*Since 1996, but who’s counting?