What can be patented?
Utility patents protect inventions that are a novel, nonobvious, and usefulWhat Does Useful Mean?
The patent law specifies that inventions must be useful, which means have a useful purpose. Being useful also includes operativeness, meaning that an invention must operate or perform its intended purpose.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.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.What You Can Patent
A patent provides you with the right to keep others from making and selling your invention for up to 20 years. The most common type of patent, a utility patent, protects rights in new and useful processes, machines and other things. These patents also can protect rights in non-obvious improvements made to existing things. To determine if your invention is patentable, you must first research all previous patents and other publicly disclosed inventions to ensure that no one else has already patented something similar. Because this process can be difficult and complicated, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recommends hiring a registered patent attorney to conduct the search for you.