What Does New or Novelty Mean?
In order for an invention to be patentable it must be new as defined by patent law . An invention cannot be patented if: The invention was known or used by others in the United States, or patented or described in a printed publication in the United States or a foreign country, before the current applicant filed for his or her patent. Someone else has made the same invention as you did. The invention was patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country more than one year prior to the application for patent in the United States. You or somebody else revealed your invention more than a year ago to the public.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.The Poor Man's Patent is a Myth
One of the undying myths of Patent World is that there is such a thing as a Poor Man's Patent. If you've never heard of it, the poor man's patent involves writing out a description of your invention and mailing that description to yourself. The transmission of this description through the mail and the cancelling of the postage by the Post Office is supposed to establish a date of invention for you. That way if someone steals your invention or comes along and invents it independently, you have "proof" that you invented it first. The proof is in the sealed envelop and the date the postage was cancelled.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.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.