Patent Searching 101: A Patent Search Tutorial
Inventors and entrepreneurs who are looking to cut costs frequently want to do their own search. This is a wise first move, but you really need to be careful. It is quite common for inventors to search and find nothing even when there are things that could and would be found by a professional searcher. So while it makes sense to do your own search first, be careful relying on your own search to justify spending the thousands of dollars you will need to spend to ultimately obtain a patent. In other words, nothing in this article should be interpreted as me suggesting that inventors can or should forgo a professional patent search. There is simply no comparison between an inventor done patent search and a patent search done by a pro. Having said that, every inventor should spend time searching and looking if for no other reason than to familiarize themselves with the prior art. Of course, if you can find something that is too close on your own you save time and money and can move on to whatever invention/project is next. Another thing you MUST know about when you use Google Patent Search is that there are also some holes in the database. I have specifically looked for patents I know to exist and cannot always find them. I have heard the same experience from other patent attorneys and agents. Additionally, the most recent patents are not available on Google. What this means is you cannot only rely on Google, but you still must use Google. The Google database covers patents that are issued all the way back to US Patent No. 1. This scope is much broader than either Free Patents or the USPTO . So while you might not find everything, while it is difficult to specifically narrow your search, you still really need to check yourself using the Google database to see if there are old references that might be on point. In this case there are not many to choose from. Many times, however, the list will contain hundreds or even thousands of patents depending upon the popularity of the term or phrase selected. For example, if you search "SPEC/thermos", you will find hundreds of patents that use this word in the specification. In fact, at the time this sample search was conducted (March 16, 2012) no fewer than 970 US patents have the word "thermos" in the specification, and that is only for patents issued since 1976. So what should you do now? If you find too many patents, rework the specification field search. For example, if your search were "SPEC/thermos and SPEC/beverage" you get down to 200 US patents. Ultimately, upon receiving manageable results, just click on several of the patents. The key, however, is to start off broad and then narrow your way down to those that are the most likely relevant references. Also remember that it is critically important to figure out what things are called. I cannot stress this enough. You need to use different names and labels. You will find that patent attorneys typically call certain features by a select few names. These names are not always obvious, but once you figure out what the industry calls something you are far more likely to find relevant patents.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.Patentability Search
If you do a quick search and don't find your idea the next step is to get a professional patent search. Why? Because a professional patent searcher will find the patents that you cannot. If you are an inventor that is interested in making money from your idea you want to know what other people have patented. Almost always it is money well spent. If a professional search turns up patents that are similar to your idea, you can make an informed decision whether you move forward with the idea or not. If nothing turns up in a professional search it can energize you to finish evaluating and developing your idea. Now could be a good time to get a patent. Check out how to patent an invention. Both outcomes are equally important and you should celebrate either one. When you find your great idea has already been patented you can pat yourself on the back for saving thousands of dollars and lots of hours of your time. If your idea turns out to be original and you decide to pursue it, get to work. Inventors really can make a lot of money with an original product idea.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.Attorney Fees / Invention Complexity
The USPTO, IP Watchdog and every patent law firm strongly recommends that inventors hire a patent agent or attorney to prepare the application. IP Watchdog reminds inventors that not only is the process confusing, but a patent is a legal document that uses the language found in the application and patents can only be protected in court, where every word in the document matters. IP Watchdog reports that the median cost of a patent attorney is around $250 an hour, higher in urban areas (Quinn suggests hiring an experienced attorney that works in an area with a low cost of living as a way to control costs, as opposed to hiring an inexperienced attorney). Quinn states that, depending on the complexity of the invention, attorney fees for conducting a search and preparing an application with drawings usually run between $7,000 and $15,000. The more complex an invention, the longer the attorney spends researching related patents, writing up a detailed description and outlining exactly what the patent should protect. Drawings also take longer the more complex the invention is, and USPTO rewrites can be more difficult.