If your idea has ever been patented before, you will not eligible for a patent. While hiring a professional is recommended an inventor should do a preliminary search themselves and if capable a complete search.
Time Required: Variable
- You can do a patent search online. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (1790 - Present) and Delphion (1974 - Present) both provide free online databases.
- You can searching using keywords or phrases that describes your invention. Look for common terms describing the invention and its function, effect, end-product, structure, and use.
- The results will list the title and number of all patents related to your keywords (l976 forward only). The title link will take you to the full text of the patent.
- You will not be able to do a complete search online for a pre-1976 patent unless you know the exact patent number. With online patent be sure to examine other referenced patents that the inventor has listed.
- For better results the inventor could visit one of the 87 patent and trademark depository libraries - you can make an appointment with one of the patent librarians for further help.
- In conducting a patent search at a PTDL, you will need to take the next steps.
- The index to the US Patent Classification (paper, CD-ROM) Begin with this alphabetical subject index to the Manual of Classification. Search for your keywords. Note class and subclass numbers.
- Locate those numbers in the Manual of Classification. Note where the terms fall within the US Patent Classification System. Scan the entire class schedule, paying attention to the dot indent. Revise search strategy as needed.
- Classification Definitions(microfiche/CD-ROM/USPTO web)Read definitions to establish the scope of class(es) and subclass(Es) relevant to the search. They include important search notes and suggestions for further search.
- Patents BIB (CD-ROM, WEST) - Check if you are on the right path; search Patents BIB (1969 - ) or WEST (1971- ) for a particular class/subclass; retrieve results and examine titles.
- Try other relevant classes/subclasses. Revise your search by using applicable keywords; note the classes and subclasses and go back to step 8.
- Patents CLASS (CD-ROM or WEST)- Once relevant class(Es)/subclass(Es) are identified, obtain a list of all patent numbers (1790-present) granted for every class and subclass to be searched.
- Official Gazette - Patent Section (paper or microform) Go to the Gazette and look for exemplary claim(s) and a representative drawing for all patents on the list(s) to eliminate those unrelated to the invention.
- Complete Patent Document (microfilm, paper, CD-ROM, WEST, or USPTO web; years of coverage vary) Search the complete text and drawing(s) of closely related patents to determine how different they are from the invention.
- Use an attorney, agent or independent research company when quality becomes more important. Keep your own search results and compare them to the professional search.
- Professional searches can come with a formal written opinion or simply be copies of the prior art found in the search. Ask how the search will be done, what databases will be used.
- Sign a non-disclosure agreement before hiring a professional. Watch out for invention scams.
- Not every reference librarian in each PTDL library will be skilled in patent searching. Ask before you make an appointment.
- Check classification numbers associated with each patent you examine. Go to the Manual of Classification to find out what the number/s state and then go to the Definition of Classifications to understand the invention.