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Reviewed by Alec Griffiths, IP Manager | 16 April 2024

What is a Freedom to Operate (FTO) patent search?

A Freedom to Operate (FTO) patent search, also known as a Clearance search, is a comprehensive search carried out to assess whether a product, process, or technology infringes upon existing patents or intellectual property rights

Why might a business consider a FTO patent search?

An FTO search allows a business to evaluate potential commercial risks before investing resources in research, development, or commercialisation activities. An FTO is often undertaken as a precautionary measure before the launch of a new product or entering a new market and offers multiple benefits that go beyond risk mitigation.

It’s important to remember that having a patent does not give you the right to manufacture, import, export or sell a particular product – it simply gives you the right to prevent others from doing so. An FTO search is still necessary, even if you have a patent.

Typically, a business should be carrying out an FTO search if they are:

  • Launching a new product or service
  • Expanding into new territories/markets
  • Exploring new trading routes
  • Considering new manufacturing sites overseas
  • Developing a new iteration of a product during R&D

What are the benefits of an FTO search?

1. Managing risks

The biggest reason FTO searches are conducted is having a clear picture of the potential commercial risks associated with patent infringement. By thoroughly researching existing patents within specific markets that are relevant to your technology/product, a business can avoid expensive litigation and damages that may arise from unintentional infringement.

2. Enhanced competitive advantage

An FTO search provides valuable, strategic insights that can elevate a business by allowing them to make informed decisions about their own innovation strategy. The patent information discovered during the search can be used to help assess novelty and inventiveness of innovations, identify potential licensing opportunities, keep up to date on known competitors, as well as identifying new competitors entering the market. This information can provide a business with a competitive edge through strategic use of its IP.

3. R&D streamlining

If an FTO search is conducted early in the R&D process it can help streamline investments, both from a finance perspective and a time perspective. It achieves this by permitting a business to focus on areas with minimal legal risk and maximum commercial potential. R&D strategies can be adapted, and different opportunities explored. In some cases, it can avoid unnecessary R&D by highlighting potential licensing opportunities. This approach not only streamlines R&D from a resource perspective but also increases the pace of innovation within the business.

4. Building credibility

For businesses engaged in collaborations, partnerships, or seeking investment, demonstrating freedom to operate is essential for building trust and credibility. Conducting an FTO search showcases a commitment to compliance, risk management, and responsible innovation practices. It reassures stakeholders, investors, and partners that the business is proactive in addressing potential legal issues and protecting its intellectual property, thereby enhancing its reputation, and fostering stronger relationships.


In an increasingly competitive business environment, the importance of conducting Freedom to Operate patent searches should not be overlooked. Beyond mitigating legal and commercial risks, an FTO search can empower a business to make informed decisions, enhance their competitive advantage, streamline R&D investments, and build trust and credibility among stakeholders. By proactively assessing third party patent rights and navigating potential obstacles, a business can maximise the commercial benefit of their innovations while safeguarding their intellectual property rights.

Ultimately, investing in an FTO search is not just a risk mitigation tool but a sound strategic move toward success in today’s innovation-driven economy.

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