Is my invention already patented?
Determine if your invention is novel by doing a "prior art" or patent search, find out if someone else has already patented your idea. An inventor or hired professional can conduct a search of the USPTO records.Filing and Examination Process
The USPTO accepts applications filed electronically as well as paper applications delivered by mail. However, since 2011, the USPTO charges an additional fee for non-electronic applications. Fees cover the USPTO's cost to examine your application and are non-refundable regardless of whether the examiner grants your application. Fees vary depending on the size of your organization and the number of claims you make. Because the amount changes every year, the USPTO recommends checking the current fee schedule before you file your application. The backlog of applications means it can take one to two years before an examiner takes his first action on your application. If he rejects any or all of your claims, you have the opportunity to reply and amend your application before a final decision is made. If the examiner grants your patent, you must pay additional fees for the patent to be issued and published.Direct-Hire Professional Search
If you want to save lawyer fees and mark-ups, consider going directly to a patent search firm. Searchers are best found through inventor grapevines, inventor associations, or university intellectual property departments. In larger cities, you can also check the Yellow Pages under "patent searchers." But be careful not to fall into a trap set by some disreputable invention marketing organizations. They list themselves in the phone book under "patent searchers" with a toll-free number. This is another way they hook unsuspecting inventors into service contracts. Get all the facts up front. Some reputable searchers ask for money up front if they don't know you. This is understandable. Just be sure you get the cost of the search beforehand, and get—and check—references. The cost to search a utility patent in the Washington, D.C., area runs between $500 and $1,000. It is roughly $100 per hour for a competent search. Once the search has been completed, if you want to obtain an opinion on the patentability of your invention, add the cost of your lawyer. If you need to show a prospective licensee that your invention has a good shot at a patent or that it's unlikely to infringe on an existing product, a letter from competent patent counsel may do the trick.The Do-It-Yourself Patent Search
If you decide to do the patent search yourself, you have several search methods available: The USPTO (United States Patent Trade Office) Public Search Facility. The USPTO operates a Patent Public Search Facility located in Alexandria, Virginia. Here every U.S. patent granted since 1790 may be searched and examined. Many inventors like to make at least one pilgrimage to the Patent Public Search Facility. It's located fewer than 15 minutes from National Airport by taxi; Metro Rail serves it off the Blue and Yellow lines, King Street Station; and several hotels are within walking distance, so it's easy to get to and around.Patent Laws - Functions Of The USPTO
Patent law specifies the rules for patents. The USPTO administers all patent laws relating to the granting of patents and various other provisions relating to patents. They will examine your applications and grant patents when applicants are entitled to them. They publish and distribute all patent information including: recording assignments of patents, maintaining search files of U.S. and foreign patents, maintaining a search room for public use in examining issued patents and records, and suppling copies of patents and official records to the public.