Patents search for beginners: 
What it is and how to do one

Patents search is the best tool to tell you if your invention idea is, well, new.

It is a search, done through all published patents to see if an invention similar to yours, has already been granted patent protection.

You have an invention idea. You have big plans for it. You are sure no one thought of this marvellous idea before, and you want to protect it with a patent.But are you sure your invention idea is really new?

To get a patent, your invention idea must pass several tests. Your invention must be patentable.

You could apply for a patent, in the country of your choice, and wait to see if your application is accepted. However, the patent application process, costs quite a bit of money, and takes time.

You will have to pay patent application fees and, usually, the fees of a patent attorney. It makes more sense not to apply for a patent, before you are relatively certain that no patent has already been given to a product like yours.

How can you find out if your invention is really new? check what has already been invented.

patent search
Image courtesy of Jeffrey Beall
patents search

There are two ways to do this:

  1. Invention research
  2. Patents search

Invention research involves finding out if your invention idea already exists in the market. If it does, it’s not new.

You will probably not be able to get a patent for it. It might still be worthwhile to produce and sell your invention, but you need to check that you don’t infringe other people’s patents and to make sure you have a business plan in place to make this business venture work.

If your invention research doesn’t bring up anything resembling your invention, it’s time to do a patents search.

Patents search

Patents search is meant to check who received a patent on a similar invention to yours in the past. It will tell you if your invention idea is new, or, if someone else already thought of it before, and did something about it.

The most important test an invention needs to pass, before it can receive a patent is the test of novelty – your invention needs to be new.

While your invention research might not have brought up a product similar to yours, someone else might have already thought of the idea and protected it with a patent.

If that’s the case – most chances are that your patent application will not be accepted, and you should probably not waste your time and money, applying for one.

What is a patents search and how do you conduct one?

A patents search is the process by which you look at all the existing patents that have been granted in the past and check to see whether a patent has already been granted to an invention similar to yours.

Patent searches are usually done per country, and you can check whether your invention idea has previously been granted a patent. It makes sense to check specifically for each country in which you are hoping to apply and get a patent.

Sounds easy enough, right?

There are two ways to do a patents search -

  1. Pay a professional to do a patent search for you
  2. Do your own free patent search online

It is usually recommended that you use a patent search service or a patent search firm, for a fee, to make sure that the search is comprehensive and covers all the different countries in which you plan to apply, as well as all the different keywords and search terms that are relevant to your invention.

It is also worth checking if your country has any free help available that can do a professional patent search for you, free of charge.

Not many people know that you can actually conduct your own patent search.

There is no real reason why not to do it alone. Most patent databases are open to the public, and free to search.

If you know where to look, and are reasonably internet savvy there is no reason why you cannot conduct a free patent search online, by yourself.

You could save yourself a fair bit of money, by doing the work yourself. It will take some time, but hey, you know what they say... time is money.

Search –today its easier
Card Catalog in Central Search Room, 1942
patents search

Even if you do plan to pay a professional service to conduct a patents search for you, it is worth starting by doing a patent search online by yourself first, to rule out the existence of similar inventions protected by a patent.

You will be surprised how often the first patents search you conduct will bring an existing patent exactly like yours. If indeed your invention idea is not new, it’s better to save yourself the trouble and expense of paying for a patent search service.

Ouch... my invention is already patented

If you do conduct a patent search online by yourself and find that a similar patent already exists, don’t despair. Not all is lost.

At this point, it is worth meeting with a patent attorney. He might be able to clarify your findings and advice whether your invention idea still has some aspects that might be worth protection by a patent.

Remember, inventions are often new improvements on existing ideas and products. Even if your invention idea is similar to an existing patent, some of the technology you use could be different than what is already protected by a patent. At this stage it’s advisable to think of your “business plan” for your invention. Even if a patent already exists for a product similar to yours, there might still be things you can do to make money from your invention, even without a patent.

A patent attorney could help you check if your idea is infringing existing patents, and if you will need permission from the patent’s owner to develop your product.

Once you did your own patent search online, and came up with a similar potential product, more or less the same as your invention, get the advice of a patent attorney.

Most patent attorneys will offer you a 30 minutes free consultation, and you can get a clear idea on the implications of any patents you found with your free patent search online.

What Next?

Learn about the next steps in the patent application process, or read how you can do an online free patent search.

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Return from patents search to patent invention basics

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