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.Has someone else already done this?
As an inventor, one of your first thoughts when you come up with the Mother of All Ideas is probably, Has someone else already done this? The only way to know for sure if you're the first is through a patent search. The search will tell you if your idea has been patented already and, if so, whether the patent is still in force. Here's how you do it.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 long does patent protection last? (As of year 2005)
Utility and plant patents are granted for a term which begins with the date of the grant and usually ends 20 years from the date the applications were filed. You must make the timely payment of the appropriate maintenance fees. Design patents last 14 years from the date you are granted the patent. No maintenance fees are required for design patents.How difficult is a patent search?
Conducting a thorough patent search is difficult, particularly for the novice. Patent searching is a learned skill. A novice in the United States could contact the nearest Patent and Trademark Depository Library (PTDL) and seek out search experts to help in setting up a search strategy. If you are in the Washington, D.C. area, the USPTO provides public access to collections of patents, trademarks, and other documents at its Search Facilities located in Arlington, Virginia. It is possible, however difficult, for you to conduct your own patent search.