You cannot patent something unless it is completely new. To find out if your idea is new you have to conduct a patent search. Learning how to do a patent search is a critical skill for any inventor. Patent searching reveals the limits on the patent you can get for your invention: the prior art.
Prior art is the sum total of all published papers, patents and patent applications available to the public. The United States government grants your patent in return for the public disclosure of your invention. If your invention is not something totally new then why give you the patent? If the prior art contains your invention then there is nothing new to teach and no benefit to the public.
Fortunately, you have a wide array of patent search services available to you. The Internet has given inventors enormous power to conduct professional patent searches. Instead of going to the library or to the patent office, you can conduct your patent search online. There are even professional services that can search patents for you. Here’s how you can use those online tools to conduct the best search possible patent search.
Inventing is difficult. Your brand new idea is likely not as new as you think. To find out, start searching as soon as you have the earliest version of your invention. Keep searching as you improvement and search some more after you file your patent. If your new invention is already in the prior art then, it is better to find out early. It is a terrible feeling to devote a year of your life to an invention only to find out that it is not novel. With easy-to-use online tools, it is easier than ever to find prior art.
In reality, the results of a patent search are seldom black and white. You will likely find out that several aspects of your invention are already patented or published while some parts of your invention are not. Use the search to inform the process of invention. Early searching allows you to focus on the aspects of your invention most unlike the prior art.
For example, you invent a new way to brew beer. The process takes the same steps that are used in a traditional beer brewing methods but rearranges them. The method also adds a brand new step at the end. When you conduct your search, you find that several other fermentation processes use your new step but no one seems to have ever rearranged the other steps like you have. You then come up with three or four other ways to rearrange the traditional steps of brewing to expand upon the newest part of your invention.
Save Your Search Results and Search Logic
When you file your patent, you will be able to list the patents and other publications that you consider most relevant. This document is called an information disclosure statement (IDS). It seems counterintuitive, but a long IDS makes a patent stronger. It means that when the patent is finally granted by the patent office, your patent is completely new when compared to all the patents and publications that you found in your search.
You have to disclose any patent or publication that you, as an inventor, think is relevant to the novelty of your invention. If you fail to do so, your issued patent can be rendered null and void. You want to disclose lots of references and not rely solely on the USPTO patent search. Even though a long IDS will make it harder to get an issued patent, the issued patent will be stronger for having been considered in light of all those references.
Do not just save your references. Save your search logic as well. You need to repeat your searches both before and after you file your patent. For example, you come up with an invention in the spring and start to do some patent searching. By the time you finish your search and write a provisional patent application, it’s June 1st.
Yet, unbeknownst to you, another inventor filed a nearly identical patent application on May 1st. That patent application may not be published until November 1st of next year. That means that you need to repeat your patent searches for a year and a half after your first filing date to include all the prior art.
What Happens if You’re Blocked by Prior Art
Finding a conflict with prior art could be a good reason to abandon your patent application. When you find a prior art reference that seems like it may block your patent application, analyze it carefully. Is there any aspect of your invention that the prior art did not consider? Is there any way that you are different?
If not, let the application go. It is hard enough to get a patent for a novel idea. It is nearly impossible to get around difficult prior art.
If you find a reference to prior art early, it is easy to accept the results: save your time and money, and do not file the patent application. When you find the prior art later in the process, things get complicated. If you find the prior art after you file the patent application, for example, then you need to include it in your IDS.
If you’ve gotten so far into the process that you’ve filed the patent application, but want to back out due to conflicting prior art, then you can give the USPTO notice that you want to abandon the application and pay a fee. You also can simply stop responding the USPTO and your application will eventually become officially abandoned.
Inventors are better able to search for prior art now than ever before. A good patent search will make your patents smarter, better and stronger. Start your patent search early and keep searching. Save the prior art you find and be sure to disclose it in your IDS. Your work will be rewarded. The patents you file will be more likely to succeed and the patents that issue will be more valuable.
LegalZoom can help you perform a patent search to find out if your invention is original. With a LegalZoom patent search, you get a comprehensive search that identifies relevant patents and patent applications published with the USPTO, results compiled and bound in a booklet for quick reference, and a helpful guide to understanding your search results. Get started with the patent search process today.