About Patent Searches
Category Patent Searching

Patent Searches can be conducted for free online by connecting to either the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) database, or by accessing numerous other private databases that have downloaded most of the 7+ million patents from the USPTO.

Some patent databases such as Google Patents and FreePatentsOnline are free, while others charge a fee. Some fee-based services, such as Dialog and Delphion, also access world patents, scientific journals, trade articles and other publications.

Collectively, all patents, published material, ideas and inventions known to be in existence anywhere in the world, prior to when you file for a patent on your invention, are called "prior art." A search for this material is called a, "prior art search," which is essentially a more comprehensive search than merely searching for patents alone.

When your patent application is reviewed by the patent office to determine whether an idea like yours ever existed prior to you submitting your invention, the examiner will consider any prior art from anywhere in the world. In fact, if the patent office or you miss the finding of significant prior art, and if your competitor or another person shows the patent office that prior art existed, measures can be taken to have your patent, or parts of it, disallowed, even after it has already issued to you.

For this reason and others, it may be particularly important to gather as much prior art information as possible before filing for a patent, the notion being, "measure twice, cut one."

On the other hand, some suggest it's acceptable to put your head in the sand, conduct little prior art searching, and if your patent office examiner doesn't find anything, then your chances of getting a patent increase. Although this may be true, it isn't going to necessarily provide you with a strong, defensible patent.

You can perform your own patent and prior art searches free online in an evening. Patent searches by a patent professional can be performed in a couple of days, but most firms take about two weeks to get you results. Comprehensive prior art searches and world searches may take longer. Patent lawyers and patent agents typically charge $500 to $1,500 or more. Some wholesale search services charge as little as $250.

What you receive from a patent attorney or agent that you don't get on your own, or from some discounted search services, is a patentability opinion letter. An opinion letter is an assessment of the chances of you receiving a patent, and how broad or valid it may be. Such an opinion can be an important element in developing your patenting and commercialization strategy.

Extra credit: Want to know how valid a patent is? No problem. A patent attorney can review the pertinent patent file wrappers containing hundreds or thousands of pages, and render you an opinion. Expect to pay anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 or more for such a validity opinion.

Adapted from, The Inventor’s Bible: How to Market and License Your Brilliant Ideas, Copyright 2001, 2004, Ten Speed Press, a Crown Publishing imprint of Random House, All Rights Reserved.

Category Patent Searching
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