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.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.Who can apply for a patent?
A patent must be applied for only in the name(s) of the actual inventor(s). However, the inventor can sell or assign the patent to someone else. Prior art includes any patents related to your invention, any published articles about your invention, and any public demonstrations. This determines if your idea has been patented before or publicly disclosed making it unpatentable.Patent Myths
Patents are valuable - Patents may have commercial value but that usually depends upon how it has been used. A patent means the invention works as verified by the government - The U.S. government does not test inventions to see if they work. A patent gives the owner the exclusive right to make, use, and sell the invention - A patent gives its owner the right to EXCLUDE others from making, using, and selling exactly what is covered by their patent claims. A holder of a prior patent with broader claims may prevent the inventor whose patent has narrower claims from using the inventor's own patent. A patent right is exclusory only.USPTO Fees
The USPTO charges fees at every step of the patent process and these fees are the only fixed cost in the process. The USPTO charges a required $330 to file an application, $540 for a search, $220 for an examination, $1,510 to issue the patent if it passes the examination, plus $7,750 in maintenance fees over the 20 years that the patent is in force. Hence, the total to file and go through the process is $1,090, but the total to receive the patent and keep it in force is $10,350. Note that independent inventors and small businesses receive a 50 percent discount on fees but that the USPTO charges more for extra or late paperwork.