How do I know if my idea is patentable?
First, check to see if your idea qualifies. Second, learn the basics of the patenting process. Next, do a search for of all previous public disclosures that concern your invention. These public disclosures are called prior art. A registered patent attorney or agent can be hired to do a patentability search for prior art, and a big part of that is searching for U.S. and foreign patents that compete with your invention. After an application is filed, the USPTO will conduct their own patentability search as part of the official examination process.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.What Is A Patent?
It is just like a property right for the inventor. All U.S. patents are issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office or USPTO. Most patents last for twenty years. The twenty years begins on the date the application for a non-provisional or provisional patent was first filed. A patent gives you the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling your invention in the United States or importing your invention into the United States. Once a patent is issued, it becomes your responsibility to enforce the patent, the USPTO will not enforce your rights for you. From the USPTO you are only granted rights that are honored within the United States, U.S. territories, and U.S. possessions.You Can't Be Too Obvious
Even if you don't find the prior art to prove it - you will not get a patent if your invention is not different enough from similiar inventions that are already out there. A patent maybe refused if the differences between your invention and another invention are too obvious. Your invention must be sufficiently different from what has been used or described before that it may be said to be nonobvious to a person having ordinary skill in the area of technology related to your invention . For example, the substitution of one material for another, or changes in size, are ordinarily not patentable. You can't paint it red and make it twice as big and expect a patent. Another example of "nonobvious to a person having ordinary skill in the area of technology related to your invention" could be the following. An electronics engineer looks at a circuit board and observes that it is just like another circuit board except that a few parts are substituted. Someone who is not familiar with circuit boards may not understand that the two boards are very similar, however, someone with training thinks that it is obvious. You would want the electronics engineer to look at the circuit board that you want to patent and say, "heah, why didn't I think of that!"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.