How to Find Out if Your Invention Idea is Already Patented
If you have an idea for an invention, before you patent it you should check to see if it's already been invented by some other inventor in the past. Though actually, whether or not it's been invented, what you'll want to do is find out whether it's been patented before with the USPTO (the United States Patent and Trademark Office). Here you'll learn how to search patents to find out if your invention idea is already patented or if you should redirect your brainstorming to another invention idea. Have a question? Get an answer from a lawyer now!Utility patents
Utility patents are for either a: process, machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter or an improvement of any of the above. Patent protection is also available for (1) ornamental design of an article of manufacture (design patent) or (2) asexually reproduced plant varieties by design and plant patents (plant patent).How to Conduct a Patent Search
To get a basic understanding of patent searches read Searching For Students and in particular read Searching Using Key Words . It was written for students; however, if you can look past the cute language it will quickly get you reading and searching patents online within minutes. It will not be enough to do a diligent (complete) search for prior art by only using the Internet. For that you would need to understand the patent classification system and be prepared to do days or even weeks of research.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.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.