Why is classification so important?
While it is possible to search patents using keywords, the best way to conduct a comprehensive patent search is by classification. Classification helps bring together similar devices and concepts, even when different terms have been used to describe them. When a device is truly new, terminology is not set. For example, before personal computers a mouse was nothing more than a rodent. The inventor of the first "Computer Input and Display Control" would not have found related devices by searching the keyword "mouse." A classification is used both as a tool for finding patents (patentability searches), and for assisting in the assignment of patent applications to examiners for examination purposes. Classifications have definitions. Classifications have hierarchical relationships to one another.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.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.How to Find Out if Your Invention Idea is Already Patented
If you have an idea for an invention, before you patent it you should check to see if it's already been invented by some other inventor in the past. Though actually, whether or not it's been invented, what you'll want to do is find out whether it's been patented before with the USPTO (the United States Patent and Trademark Office). Here you'll learn how to search patents to find out if your invention idea is already patented or if you should redirect your brainstorming to another invention idea. Have a question? Get an answer from a lawyer now!Non-Provisional Application
Although you can convert a provisional application into a non-provisional application, the USPTO recommends filing a separate non-provisional application that references the earlier provisional one. Doing so can extend the time your invention is protected by up to one year. A non-provisional application includes a lengthy written document with a description of your invention and all the things you claim you invented, as well as drawings, an oath or declaration and fees for the filing, research and examination of the application. The USPTO recommends using a registered patent attorney to draft and file your non-provisional application. USPTO regulations include specific requirements for the format of applications and the necessary drawings -- and examiners reject applications that don't meet these requirements.