If you have a patentable invention, filing a provisional patent application can provide temporary protection of your intellectual property rights while you develop your idea further or seek funding. Provisional applications have a lower fee than non-provisional applications -- and you don't have to make formal claims or provide the same level of detail about your invention. Additionally, provisional applicants don't have to wait for the USPTO to examine the contents of the application. Your provisional application is valid 12 months from the date you file it -- and you can use the phrase "patent pending" in connection with your invention during that time.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.More on Prior Art
Remember, while patent searching is a big part of prior art , it is not everything. If someone has made your invention before you without patenting that still counts against your patentablity. A complete search for prior art might include for example: searching non-patent literature such as any magazine, newspaper, or trade paper article written about inventions like yours also a complete search would include international patent documents (online) and not just those found at the USPTO. Do not make the mistake of believing that just because no one else is selling your product that it does not already exist. After determining that your idea is patentable and qualifies for a patent - you now need to decide if the expense of patenting is worth it.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!"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.