how do i know if my idea has been patented
Checking to see if your idea has already been invented before applying for a patent saves you time and money. A patent gives you exclusive rights to the product or idea you invented and a way to fight intellectual property theft. The United States Patent and Trademark Office checks your idea against existing patients and pending applications during the application process. Your patent will be rejected if it's too similar to an existing patent, costing you the application fee. While you might find ideas that are similar to yours, you can still patent your idea as long as you show on the application how your take on the patent object is new. You can search for existing patents using various methods, including the USPTO's online database or in person at a field office.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.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.Who can apply for a patent?
A patent must be applied for only in the name(s) of the actual inventor(s). However, the inventor can sell or assign the patent to someone else. Prior art includes any patents related to your invention, any published articles about your invention, and any public demonstrations. This determines if your idea has been patented before or publicly disclosed making it unpatentable.The Patent Classification System
Patents are organized by class and subclass of invention , similar to the way books are organized in a library). By using the classification system , you can find and examine patents that are in the same field (class) as your idea. The tutorial How to Conduct a Patent Search will introduce you to this form of searching, however, this is difficult material to master.