Ok, I’m convinced a patent for my invention is worthwhile, now what???
Once you have gone through the steps of determining if your idea is patent subject matter (usually an article that is manufactured or a process of creating something), you can use some search tools to see if your idea already exists.
It should be noted that using DIY search tools is not a replacement for a professional search. Even patent attorneys use professional searchers who are more adept than anyone at finding related prior art describing inventions like yours. But a DIY search can save you time and money should you find your invention already patented.
If you find your general concept, you still may get a patent on the improvement or modifications. Regardless, any information you find will educate you on the merits of going forward or going back to the drawing board.
One popular search engine used by many people is Google Patents. This search engine is somewhat limited by requiring the correct search terms to be used but will allow you to go through families of patents as well as look through cross-referenced patents. An upside of this search is that it shows thumbnails of the patents to let you quickly determine which documents are important and which are not.
Search Google Patents
The USPTO also allows for the searching of patents and can be located under the “patents” heading at www.uspto.gov. This site is not as user friendly as it could be since it requires very precise language to locate relevant documents. The documents are also only listed by number, requiring the user to click on each one to view its contents. Thus, it is a bit slow and cumbersome to use compared to Google patents.
Finally – though you have likely done this first – you should be looking through general search engines to see if your product or idea is already for sale or known to others. This step cannot be discounted as many ideas are never patented, and therefore no documentation exists at the USPTO concerning them.
A Note From Attorney Sean Kaufhold:
As an example, our firm has a client who wanted to license technology from a foreign company. This was a technology that the foreign company was filing patents on in many countries and wanted our client to fund the US patent filings as part of the license agreement. Our search found a blog teaching the process in question, being used ten years earlier and undermining any company’s ability or my client to patent the technology.
The patent Examiner can use anything publicly available, anywhere in the world at the time of your filing, against you. So don’t be fooled into thinking that it was only done on the other side of the world, and therefore you can file. Only the first true inventor can obtain patent protection.