Do A Patent Search Early In The Invention Process.
There is nothing more valuable than a patent search when you have a new idea. The reason a search is so valuable is that this single step can save the average inventor a fortune. Many times you will find your invention has already been patented. If that is the case and the patent is still active, i.e. less than 17-20 years old in most cases, you will either want to change your idea or start over with a new concept. Often there is no point in pursuing an idea that has already been patented if your idea infringes the patent. Your goal as an inventor should be to seek out reasons why your invention will not work and will not make you money. This is hard for most people to understand.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
you can do a patent search online. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (1790 - Present) and Delphion (1974 - Present) both provide free online databases. You can searching using keywords or phrases that describes your invention. Look for common terms describing the invention and its function, effect, end-product, structure, and use. The results will list the title and number of all patents related to your keywords (l976 forward only). The title link will take you to the full text of the patent. You will not be able to do a complete search online for a pre-1976 patent unless you know the exact patent number. With online patent be sure to examine other referenced patents that the inventor has listed.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.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.