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.What Does Useful Mean?
The patent law specifies that inventions must be useful, which means have a useful purpose. Being useful also includes operativeness, meaning that an invention must operate or perform its intended purpose.Why is classification so important?
While it is possible to search patents using keywords, the best way to conduct a comprehensive patent search is by classification. Classification helps bring together similar devices and concepts, even when different terms have been used to describe them. When a device is truly new, terminology is not set. For example, before personal computers a mouse was nothing more than a rodent. The inventor of the first "Computer Input and Display Control" would not have found related devices by searching the keyword "mouse." A classification is used both as a tool for finding patents (patentability searches), and for assisting in the assignment of patent applications to examiners for examination purposes. Classifications have definitions. Classifications have hierarchical relationships to one another.How much money do I need for patenting?
The amount of money you need for patenting will vary depending on the type of patent application you submit. Fees may also vary according to the way you claim your ideas.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.