What is prior art?
Prior art is all information that has been disclosed to the public in any form about an invention before a given date. Prior art includes things like any patents related to your invention, any published articles about your invention, and any public demonstrations. prior art is "the total body of knowledge, which teaches or otherwise relates directly to an invention. This is the primary criteria in determining the patentability of a new invention. Establishes novelty and unobviousness of the art that relates to the invention in question. Prior art references include documentary sources such as patents and publications from anywhere in the world, and nondocumentary sources such as things known or used publicly."Patent Attorney Directed Search
Going through a lawyer to search patents will cost the least amount of time and the most money. Patent attorneys employ professional researchers. You hire the attorney, and the attorney gets someone to conduct the search. Then the attorney adds a mark-up to the search bill, sometimes as much as several hundred percent. Many lawyers cloak this in the term handling fee. To save this extra expense, some inventors hire their own researcher or do the search themselves. Most patent attorneys don't render an opinion based on a search conducted by anyone other than their own searcher. However, you can tell a lawyer that if they won't accept the work of your search firm, or searches done by yourself, you will go elsewhere where such work would be acceptable. If you're paying the bills, and you're willing to take the risk, the lawyer shouldn't have a problem. Now, if the search results show no prior art in my field of invention, you don't need an attorney to tell me the coast is clear. Conversely, if a search reveals prior art that's spot on your invention, you don't need an attorney to tell me my idea has been done before. You might, on the other hand, hire an attorney to help end-run an existing patent through the use of language in the application. If you hire a lawyer, get a quote in advance. The fee will be based on how all-encompassing you want the search to be.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.Filing and Examination Process
The USPTO accepts applications filed electronically as well as paper applications delivered by mail. However, since 2011, the USPTO charges an additional fee for non-electronic applications. Fees cover the USPTO's cost to examine your application and are non-refundable regardless of whether the examiner grants your application. Fees vary depending on the size of your organization and the number of claims you make. Because the amount changes every year, the USPTO recommends checking the current fee schedule before you file your application. The backlog of applications means it can take one to two years before an examiner takes his first action on your application. If he rejects any or all of your claims, you have the opportunity to reply and amend your application before a final decision is made. If the examiner grants your patent, you must pay additional fees for the patent to be issued and published.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.