Procuring a patent will protect new inventions from being copied, provided the invention proves to be new and unique. Before taking the steps to obtain a patent for a new invention, it is important to make sure there is no current patent for the same art. Many times an invention may have already been created, but the product is not yet in circulation.
A preliminary patent search is a good way to determine the likelihood that an invention is eligible to be patented. Patents can be issued for new inventions that hold no previous patent, and are not simply an improvement on a current patent holding invention. In some cases, however, if the invention is an improvement on another item, it may be possible to patent only the parts that are of improvement, as opposed to the invention as a whole.
Doing Your Own Preliminary Search Online
The website for the US Patent and Trademark Office offers a commonly used database for preliminary patent searches. All patents obtained after 2001, as well as many from the early 1970s (there was a cut off date in 1976) have complete searchable text. For patents that were obtained before that time, or for those obtained between 1976 and 2001 the data available is the patent number and the patent subject classification for each entry. For patents such as these the UPTO website offers the online Manual of Classification of Patents, which explains the large number (around150,000) or categories. If the patent you are searching for is new, or one of the updated older patent files, you can read the full text detailing the patent, and in some cases view an image as well.
The European Patent Office (EPO) also provides a database for preliminary patent searches. This database which was remodeled in 2004 provides access to around 20 million patent records. Some of the patents, however, may contain no more than the patent number, classification, and notation stating that no English text is available. The most convenient way to search the database is by using the classification numbers assigned by the European Patent Office or the World Intellectual Property Organization. It is important to note that these numbers are not the same as those issued by the US Patent and Trademark Office. Many other countries such as Germany, Japan, and Australia also offer online patent databases. These web databases provide a convenient feature to download complete or partial patent information.
It is important to remember that there is a vast wealth of technical knowledge that does have an issued patent.
To insure a thorough search to determine if the invention is in fact new and unique it would be wise to research non-patent materials that relate to the invention. Searching for the invention itself, or something that may do the same thing on a web search engine such as Google or Yahoo can provide a better understanding of what is available today that could be considered the same or similar to your invention. A good tip is to look carefully for anything that may be overlooked at first glance, and to search back farther than the last few decades to complete a thorough search.
Arranging For a Professional Patent Search
Even if you have done a comprehensive preliminary patent search on your own, your patent agent or attorney will most likely advise that a professional patent inquiry be done. A good professional search should yield around 5 to 10 patents which are conceptually similar to your invention. You will also receive a “patentability report” that points out how the significant features of your invention are similar to the others. This report is capable of giving you a good idea of the level of protection a patent can offer your invention. Pay close attention to the restriction details of past similar patents. When a patent is requested despite previous limitations the invention may impose upon, the new patent can become virtually useless.
A good professional search can range in price anywhere from $500 to $1500 depending on the subject and search method. The cost and format of the search, however, are not a guarantee of quality. All resources available should be utilized to ensure a comprehensive patent search.