Don't Talk About It
If the invention has been described in a printed publication anywhere in the world, or if it has been in public use or on sale in the United States before the date that the applicant made his/her invention, a patent cannot be obtained. If the invention has been described in a printed publication anywhere, or has been in public use or on sale in this country more than one year before the date on which an application for patent is filed in this country, a patent cannot be obtained. In this connection it is immaterial when the invention was made, or whether the printed publication or public use was by the inventor himself/herself or by someone else. If the inventor describes the invention in a printed publication or uses the invention publicly, or places it on sale, he/she must apply for a patent before one year has gone by, otherwise any right to a patent will be lost.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.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.Is 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.How To Conduct a Patent Search
you can do a patent search online. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (1790 - Present) and Delphion (1974 - Present) both provide free online databases. You can searching using keywords or phrases that describes your invention. Look for common terms describing the invention and its function, effect, end-product, structure, and use. The results will list the title and number of all patents related to your keywords (l976 forward only). The title link will take you to the full text of the patent. You will not be able to do a complete search online for a pre-1976 patent unless you know the exact patent number. With online patent be sure to examine other referenced patents that the inventor has listed.