What can be patented?
Utility patents protect inventions that are a novel, nonobvious, and usefulIs 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.Patent Attorney Directed Search
Going through a lawyer to search patents will cost the least amount of time and the most money. Patent attorneys employ professional researchers. You hire the attorney, and the attorney gets someone to conduct the search. Then the attorney adds a mark-up to the search bill, sometimes as much as several hundred percent. Many lawyers cloak this in the term handling fee. To save this extra expense, some inventors hire their own researcher or do the search themselves. Most patent attorneys don't render an opinion based on a search conducted by anyone other than their own searcher. However, you can tell a lawyer that if they won't accept the work of your search firm, or searches done by yourself, you will go elsewhere where such work would be acceptable. If you're paying the bills, and you're willing to take the risk, the lawyer shouldn't have a problem. Now, if the search results show no prior art in my field of invention, you don't need an attorney to tell me the coast is clear. Conversely, if a search reveals prior art that's spot on your invention, you don't need an attorney to tell me my idea has been done before. You might, on the other hand, hire an attorney to help end-run an existing patent through the use of language in the application. If you hire a lawyer, get a quote in advance. The fee will be based on how all-encompassing you want the search to be.How do I know if my idea is patentable?
First, check to see if your idea qualifies. Second, learn the basics of the patenting process. Next, do a search for of all previous public disclosures that concern your invention. These public disclosures are called prior art. A registered patent attorney or agent can be hired to do a patentability search for prior art, and a big part of that is searching for U.S. and foreign patents that compete with your invention. After an application is filed, the USPTO will conduct their own patentability search as part of the official examination process.How To Qualify for a Patent
Difficulty: Hard - Time Required: Variable - Ask yourself if your invention can be adequately described or enabled -- can someone in the same field make and use it? Can you make your claim to the invention in clear and definite terms? A patent cannot be obtained upon a mere idea or suggestion and to obtain a patent, you need to be able to describe all aspects of your invention.