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How do I know if my idea is patentable?


Businessman holding giant lightbulb in desert.
Andy Ryan/ Stone/ Getty Images
Question: How do I know if my idea is patentable?
  • First, check to see if your idea qualifies.
  • Second, learn the basics of the patenting process.
  • Next, do a search for of all previous public disclosures that concern your invention. These public disclosures are called prior art.
Prior art includes any patents related to your invention, any published articles about your invention, and any public demonstrations. This determines if your idea has been patented before or publicly disclosed making it unpatentable.

A registered patent attorney or agent can be hired to do a patentability search for prior art, and a big part of that is searching for U.S. and foreign patents that compete with your invention. After an application is filed, the USPTO will conduct their own patentability search as part of the official examination process.

Conducting a thorough patent search is difficult, particularly for the novice. Patent searching is a learned skill. A novice in the United States could contact the nearest Patent and Trademark Depository Library (PTDL) and seek out search experts to help in setting up a search strategy. If you are in the Washington, D.C. area, the USPTO provides public access to collections of patents, trademarks, and other documents at its Search Facilities located in Arlington, Virginia.

It is possible, however difficult, for you to conduct your own patent search.

You should not assume that your idea has not been patented even if you find no evidence of it being publicly disclosed. It is important to remember that a thorough examination at the USPTO may uncover U.S. and foreign patents as well as non-patent literature.

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