November 25, 2013–So you just came up with this great idea and you are about ready to dump your life savings into bringing this new, novel and nonobvious invention to market. But as time goes by and the euphoria of your epiphany starts to ebb; not to mention your significant other begins to get a bit squeamish at the idea of living in the cold because of your potential investment in your dream, you begin to wonder whether it might be a good idea to see if someone else came up with “your idea” before you did. Should you do a search before you apply for a patent to determine if there is any chance you can get a patent?
I know you don’t want to hear this, but it depends. It depends on how well you know the market and the history of the market, and whether you have the money to spend on a search. In most cases, a professional searcher on a simpIe mechanical device should cost anywhere from $1K to $3K.
Most people think of this type of search when they come up with their idea. Let me find out if I can patent my idea. And if the search is performed and they don’t find something that resembles their invention they are already thinking about how their invention is going to transcend the free world so that they can buy that dream vacation house and retire from their current job.
Whoa cowboy! Don’t quit your day job just yet. Not only should you consider doing a search to determine whether there is a possibility that you can patent your invention, but you should also consider doing a patent search to see if someone out there may have a “broader” patent that would cover your invention. Translation: can you imagine putting all your hard work and money into developing a product only to be hit with a patent infringement lawsuit once your “new” idea hits the market. A search may find this “broad” patent prior to dumping a ton of money into manufacturing or finalizing your design so that you can design around the patent.
It’s always a good idea to search the technology for your invention. Before you even considering hiring a third party professional searcher, you should consider searching the patents on the US Patent Office website (uspto.gov). You do this by entering key words of your invention. It doesn’t cost anything (other than your time) and it could save you a lot of money in patent application fees. However, if your search doesn’t turn up anything, it doesn’t mean that you will automatically get a patent on your invention. When you file a patent application the patent examiner will do a search to see if there is “prior art,” (e.g., prior patent, or other publication). And the patent examiner may find a piece of “prior art” that makes your invention not new or novel or nonobvious.
So consider doing a search for offensive and defensive reasons.