Patents are valuable - Patents may have commercial value but that usually depends upon how it has been used. A patent means the invention works as verified by the government - The U.S. government does not test inventions to see if they work. A patent gives the owner the exclusive right to make, use, and sell the invention - A patent gives its owner the right to EXCLUDE others from making, using, and selling exactly what is covered by their patent claims. A holder of a prior patent with broader claims may prevent the inventor whose patent has narrower claims from using the inventor's own patent. A patent right is exclusory only.The Joys of Conducting a Patent Search
A patent search involves searching different databases to see if your idea has already been patented, to know if you can patent your idea. The results of a good patent search should reveal any identical, similar, or partially similar inventions to the one you might patent. As a bonus, viewing and reading already issued patents will: help you to write your patent application, help you understand your competition, help you avoid patent infringement, help you learn more about your field of inventionPatent 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.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 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.