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!"Attorney Fees / Invention Complexity
The USPTO, IP Watchdog and every patent law firm strongly recommends that inventors hire a patent agent or attorney to prepare the application. IP Watchdog reminds inventors that not only is the process confusing, but a patent is a legal document that uses the language found in the application and patents can only be protected in court, where every word in the document matters. IP Watchdog reports that the median cost of a patent attorney is around $250 an hour, higher in urban areas (Quinn suggests hiring an experienced attorney that works in an area with a low cost of living as a way to control costs, as opposed to hiring an inexperienced attorney). Quinn states that, depending on the complexity of the invention, attorney fees for conducting a search and preparing an application with drawings usually run between $7,000 and $15,000. The more complex an invention, the longer the attorney spends researching related patents, writing up a detailed description and outlining exactly what the patent should protect. Drawings also take longer the more complex the invention is, and USPTO rewrites can be more difficult.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.Patentability Search
If you do a quick search and don't find your idea the next step is to get a professional patent search. Why? Because a professional patent searcher will find the patents that you cannot. If you are an inventor that is interested in making money from your idea you want to know what other people have patented. Almost always it is money well spent. If a professional search turns up patents that are similar to your idea, you can make an informed decision whether you move forward with the idea or not. If nothing turns up in a professional search it can energize you to finish evaluating and developing your idea. Now could be a good time to get a patent. Check out how to patent an invention. Both outcomes are equally important and you should celebrate either one. When you find your great idea has already been patented you can pat yourself on the back for saving thousands of dollars and lots of hours of your time. If your idea turns out to be original and you decide to pursue it, get to work. Inventors really can make a lot of money with an original product idea.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.