You can get a reasonable patent search for a few hundred dollars. An in-depth comprehensive search will cost more (around a $1,000).
But before you spend any money at all applying for a patent, reducing your invention to practice, or building an expensive prototype, you can start searching around all on your own.
Thanks to the internet, it is fairly simple to get started on your own patent search. The USPTO has a very detailed website with patent searching capabilities. Best of all, it is free. That is the number one place to begin your quest in determining if your invention is novel. The USPTO’s website makes it simple to check out issued patents all the way back to the 1970’s. You may access older patents from their archives, but depending on the nature of your invention, you may not need to look that far back (technology has its limits you know!).
You may begin a very preliminary patent search by writing down all the words you can think of that describe your invention. You would then want to perform a keyword search using the USPTO's database.
Remember that you need to consider patents disclosing inventions that might not be just like yours, but are similar to yours. You should note all these and then study them. Check through the existing patents and take notes of the most relevant ones. You should even print these out and begin building a stack of relevant prior art.
By studying existing and similar patents you may learn many important facts in addition to determining whether your invention is new or not. These facts might include other potential uses for your product, finding potential licensees or assignees (people who may buy the rights to your invention from you), or other product features that you hadn’t thought of. You can also study the background sections and the data that others with similar inventions included in their patents. This can help you find references that relate to your invention without having to look everywhere all on your own. All this will help you make the process easier, help you to create a more unique invention, and give you a competitive edge in the marketplace.
As you can imagine, you’re going to uncover quite a bit of important information as you search through inventions that are similar to yours. So you need a system for keeping everything organized. If you haven’t already, you should start a notebook with all the important findings you’ve uncovered through your market research and your preliminary patent search.
This notebook may just turn out to be priceless!
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