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In a products liability design defect action, evidence establishing the defectiveness of a product is paramount to a plaintiff’s case. Some jurisdictions require the plaintiff to bear the burden of offering evidence of a safer design (often defined as a “reasonable alternative design” or “feasible alternative design”). Similarly, plaintiffs may be required to produce evidence that a manufacturer of an allegedly defective product was on notice of the product’s defect and failed to remedy the product. Often, the potential evidence, for either side, that is available through the teachings of patents is overlooked. Conducting a patent search and an investigation of the state of the patent art may yield fruitful evidence regarding the defect or relative safety of the product at issue in a products liability action. But first some background to set the environment for how patents become patents.

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