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.Don't Talk About It
If the invention has been described in a printed publication anywhere in the world, or if it has been in public use or on sale in the United States before the date that the applicant made his/her invention, a patent cannot be obtained. If the invention has been described in a printed publication anywhere, or has been in public use or on sale in this country more than one year before the date on which an application for patent is filed in this country, a patent cannot be obtained. In this connection it is immaterial when the invention was made, or whether the printed publication or public use was by the inventor himself/herself or by someone else. If the inventor describes the invention in a printed publication or uses the invention publicly, or places it on sale, he/she must apply for a patent before one year has gone by, otherwise any right to a patent will be lost.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.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!"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.