Patents provide a great deal of protection and increased right enforcements for inventors. But before you get that patent, you have to go through the application process. Depending on what kind of patent you want, it could cost a few thousand dollars and take years to receive. And none of that is refundable. To avoid wasting your time and money, you should search the existing patents and pending patents in the USPTO. Then you can make sure that your patent is unique.

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Search in Person

It's a good idea to do an in person patent search whenever you can, since it allows you to be the most thorough. All major cities have patent files on hand at the USPTO's Patent and Trademark Resource Centers. When you can see the actual hard copy files, it's easier to take notes on the current patents, and improve or redevelop your own invention to make it more unique. Note that patent records cannot be checked out of the library.

Search Online

The other option is to visit the USPTO Patent Full Text Database. This database allows you multiple search options and brings up full page images if you want it. Searches are generally faster in the online database, but it's hard to tell whether there's been a glitch in the system. Always conduct at least two searches to see if you've missed anything. One of the downsides to the Patent Full Text Database is how slow it runs sometimes. It's also fairly picky on word choice and search terms. Fortunately, Google has its own patent search, allowing you to run a free search on the patent database without having to worry about the USPTO quirkiness.

Search Effectively

One of the reasons that people hire patent attorneys is because patent searches are time consuming, even when done online. The databases offer a shortcut: you can search by patent number. However, a patent number search won't help you to find all of the similar patents or patents that perform similar functions. You'll have to rely on quick and advanced searches to check other categories. Here are a few tips to make searching easier:

  • Keeping good records is vital. Otherwise, you'll wind up repeating your work or missing key terms.
  • Draw up a list of keywords and phrases that could apply to your patent. Then begin researching each one.
  • Avoid attempts at batch keywords. It saves you time, but it decreases your accuracy.
  • Make note of your results. You'll see a significant amount of overlap, so make note of what you've searched and what you've found so you don't overlook anything important.

Making sure that your invention or design is unique is one of the first steps you should take before filing the patent application. It can save you a lot of time and money if you follow this step, but don't be surprised if it takes you a while. You have to be thorough. You can do it online or in person. Just remember to keep good records and track your results so you don't have to start from scratch. If you're ever unsure, talk to a patent lawyer.

Get Started Protect your intellectual property Create IP documents and ask a lawyer your questions.

Get Started Protect your intellectual property Create IP documents and ask a lawyer your questions.