how to check if an idea has been patented
There is no EASY way. If your invention is a new can opener, an existing patent for the same idea may never use the words can opener. For example, it may be described in broader terms: container de-sealer or metal wall scissor. The patent offices classification system helps a bit, but not much. Inventors tend not to want to find their invention, so, they type in --can opener-- and look at a few and say they couldn't find it. You have to look for it like you want to find it. try different search terms. when you find one thats close, look at the references cited in that application and look for other patents wherein the close one was cited.The Three Different Types of Patents Issued By The USPTO
Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents a useful process, a machine, an article of manufacture, or a composition of matter. Examples: fiber optics, computer hardware, or medications. Utility patent can be provisional or non-provisional. Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. Examples: the look of an athletic shoe, a bicycle helmet, and the Star Wars characters. Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plants. Examples: Hybrid tea roses, Silver Queen corn, Better Boy tomatoesWhat You Can Patent
A patent provides you with the right to keep others from making and selling your invention for up to 20 years. The most common type of patent, a utility patent, protects rights in new and useful processes, machines and other things. These patents also can protect rights in non-obvious improvements made to existing things. To determine if your invention is patentable, you must first research all previous patents and other publicly disclosed inventions to ensure that no one else has already patented something similar. Because this process can be difficult and complicated, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recommends hiring a registered patent attorney to conduct the search for you.Patenting and USPTO Patent Applications - What is a patent? What kinds of patents are there? What is the USPTO?
Some people may confuse patents, copyrights, and trademarks. Although there may be some similarities, they are different and serve different purposes. Read What Do I Need? or Understanding Intellectual Property if you need to understand the differences better. Patents and trademarks are both issued by the USPTO.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.