So switch hats to the ace detective again, determined to find your invention in the patent data base. If you play along with the detective scenario, you might even have some fun with this task!
Go to the USPTO website and follow some of the links that describe the responsibilities of the agency; become familiar with the different areas of “intellectual property,” such as copyright and trademark. Then go to the patent search area Patent Database , and click the icon for “Quick Search,” under “Issued Patents.” Then click the “Help” link next to the word “Query.” That will take you to the instructions for doing a quick search Help on the Quick Search . I don’t recommend you try anything more complicated at this time.
You will use two key words at a time from your invention notebook to do the search, a noun and a verb -- what is it called and what does it do? You should take the shortcut of searching key words in patent abstracts only, rather than entire patent documents; this will save you several hours of combing though patents that are totally unrelated to your idea. Search two key words at a time, a noun and a verb, and when the results come up, review the abstracts, claims, and drawings of each patent the search finds. Then, rotate in one new key word and do another search, following the same process again and again until you’ve gone through all of your key words in different combinations. Some of the patents you see will not be related to your invention; others may be peripherally or directly related.
In your inventor notebook, record the numbers of every patent related to your idea as well as a brief description of the patent. Download and save each of those patents on your hard drive and a back-up disk. I tend to go overboard and also make a hard copy. If you decide you want to pursue development of your idea, you will need these documents later in the process.
My dear Sherlock, you are not finished yet. Because it is your nature to be thorough, you will conduct another “Quick Search” on the patent applications that have been published. Go back to the patent index page Patent Database and this time run your key word search on the “Published Applications” (on the right hand side of the page).
Have you yet resorted to Googling “patent search services?” Here’s my take on having the preliminary search conducted by “pros:” attorneys and licensed patent searchers set their prices based on a limited number of search hours, not on thoroughness. Do the preliminary search yourself. You know your invention best, you will use all of your descriptive terms (key words) to search the patents, and you will put in the time it takes to do it thoroughly.
There is one free search site you should keep your eye on -- Patent Genius -- because eventually you may be able to do your whole preliminary search on this site. Only two months online, the site’s ingenious developer, Patrick Lamb, has built a very simple search system for people who know what they are looking for. You can search patents by category, inventor, and patent number, but for the depth of search you need, don’t skip your trip to the USPTO database. Mr. Lamb says he and his team are adding new content every day, so I’ll keep you posted on developments.
Now Sherlock, how are you doing? Did you finish the preliminary search? If you found that your idea has already been patented, take yourself out to dinner or a movie, because that was hard work!
If you did not find your patent, that is a good sign ... but not conclusive. Remember there were more than three million patents issued before 1976, and then there are patents pending, overseas patents, etcetera. So, hang on to the related patents you found, take a puff on your pipe, and go back to the drawing board, where I’ll meet you next time.
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