Is my idea already patented?
Most inventors dont really want to find their invention in someone elses patent, so the spend 5 minutes looking and then declare that they can't find it. It takes longer than that. If your invention is a mouse trap, you might find it by searching for those words...but the killer patent might instead describe a rodent restriction device or an automatic small animal containment system. Look for it like you want to find it. Talk to a registered patent attorney for immediate advice on protecting your idea (in the form of a provisional patent) while you determine if it is worth pursuing, in view of a preliminary search of related inventions, patented or not. Even if you don't find any "patents" showing your idea used in an invention, it could still be unpatentable because someone else used it or described it before you filed your provisional application.How to Patent Your Idea
Contrary to popular belief, you can't get a patent for something that's still in idea form; you must be able to apply your idea in a concrete way. This doesn't mean that you have to build a prototype of your invention before you can get a patent. However, you have to be able to draw or describe it in enough detail so that someone else could make it and use it. Have a question? Get an answer from a lawyer now!Non-Provisional Application
Although you can convert a provisional application into a non-provisional application, the USPTO recommends filing a separate non-provisional application that references the earlier provisional one. Doing so can extend the time your invention is protected by up to one year. A non-provisional application includes a lengthy written document with a description of your invention and all the things you claim you invented, as well as drawings, an oath or declaration and fees for the filing, research and examination of the application. The USPTO recommends using a registered patent attorney to draft and file your non-provisional application. USPTO regulations include specific requirements for the format of applications and the necessary drawings -- and examiners reject applications that don't meet these requirements.The Do-It-Yourself Patent Search
If you decide to do the patent search yourself, you have several search methods available: The USPTO (United States Patent Trade Office) Public Search Facility. The USPTO operates a Patent Public Search Facility located in Alexandria, Virginia. Here every U.S. patent granted since 1790 may be searched and examined. Many inventors like to make at least one pilgrimage to the Patent Public Search Facility. It's located fewer than 15 minutes from National Airport by taxi; Metro Rail serves it off the Blue and Yellow lines, King Street Station; and several hotels are within walking distance, so it's easy to get to and around.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.