How to Conduct a Patent Search
To get a basic understanding of patent searches read Searching For Students and in particular read Searching Using Key Words . It was written for students; however, if you can look past the cute language it will quickly get you reading and searching patents online within minutes. It will not be enough to do a diligent (complete) search for prior art by only using the Internet. For that you would need to understand the patent classification system and be prepared to do days or even weeks of research.What Does Useful Mean?
The patent law specifies that inventions must be useful, which means have a useful purpose. Being useful also includes operativeness, meaning that an invention must operate or perform its intended purpose.The Patent Classification System
Patents are organized by class and subclass of invention , similar to the way books are organized in a library). By using the classification system , you can find and examine patents that are in the same field (class) as your idea. The tutorial How to Conduct a Patent Search will introduce you to this form of searching, however, this is difficult material to master.Is my idea already patented?
Most inventors dont really want to find their invention in someone elses patent, so the spend 5 minutes looking and then declare that they can't find it. It takes longer than that. If your invention is a mouse trap, you might find it by searching for those words...but the killer patent might instead describe a rodent restriction device or an automatic small animal containment system. Look for it like you want to find it. Talk to a registered patent attorney for immediate advice on protecting your idea (in the form of a provisional patent) while you determine if it is worth pursuing, in view of a preliminary search of related inventions, patented or not. Even if you don't find any "patents" showing your idea used in an invention, it could still be unpatentable because someone else used it or described it before you filed your provisional application.More on Prior Art
Remember, while patent searching is a big part of prior art , it is not everything. If someone has made your invention before you without patenting that still counts against your patentablity. A complete search for prior art might include for example: searching non-patent literature such as any magazine, newspaper, or trade paper article written about inventions like yours also a complete search would include international patent documents (online) and not just those found at the USPTO. Do not make the mistake of believing that just because no one else is selling your product that it does not already exist. After determining that your idea is patentable and qualifies for a patent - you now need to decide if the expense of patenting is worth it.