When you have a great idea, you want to share it with the world. You want to turn that idea into something and make a living off it. However, you must patent it before someone else steals it and makes it their own, provided that no one else did it already.
But, how to know if your idea is already patented? You can check to see if your idea was patented via a three-step process:
- Go to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office official website
- Check with the nearest Patent and Trademark Depository Library
- Contact the USPTO’s Public Search Facility in Virginia
After these steps, you will know if someone else already patented your idea. Though, there might still be a way you can patent your idea even if someone did.
Keep on reading as we go over more details listed below so you can find out if the “new” product or idea is patented or not and what your next steps should be.
Ways to Know If Ideas are Patented
When bringing your product ideas to the work, you want to patent them. A patent gives you legal rights to your intellectual property. For example, a patent lets you seek legal recourse if someone infringes steals it.
However, you must know if your idea is already patented to protect yourself from being accused of infringement yourself. Luckily, you can easily check an idea’s patent status, saving you time and unnecessary resources.
This is because the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will check for any existing or pending patent when you apply for one. If they find something too similar to yours, they can and will reject your patent. You also lose the application fee.
Fortunately, you can do it in just three steps. Regardless of where you look, you want to gather enough information to know if your idea is truly unique.
Step 1: Check with the Patent Office Website
Your first step should always be to stop by the USPTO official website and check your idea against the “Full-Text and Image Database”. The database provides a list of all existing patent applications and pictures currently in the system since 1790, though only picture copies of ones filed before 1975.
Step 2: Check with Your Nearest Patent and Trademark Depository Library
Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries have the resources to help you see how your ideas match existing patents. You can find the nearest library to you on the USPTO website.
Step 3: Call the USPTO’s Public Search Facility
While the USPTO website has an extensive database of patents, it is not foolproof. Records could be incorrect or missing. Therefore, you should contact the USPTO’s Public Search Facility, and have them go through their master database. You can call their Virginia office at 1- 571-272-3275.
How Much Does a Patent Search Cost?
The complexity of your idea will determine your final costs, but most patent search prices range from $100 to $3000. This cost pays for the application as well as the research into the list of existing patents.
Sure, you can save money by doing most of the work yourself, but you need an attorney to dig deep into the patent database. Therefore, you want to calculate the professional legal fees into your final search price as well.
If you do eventually submit your patent application, you may also have to cover a government search fee too.
The Four Types of Patent Search
Patent searches require diving through patent databases and scientific journals, along with other relevant papers. However, you can reduce your work if you know what type of search you need.
There are four different types of patent searches you can do, and each one has a specific purpose.
- Novelty Search – Novelty search determinate the patent-worthiness of your idea by checking for pre-existing patent art. This art can include both patented inventions and any unpatented idea the patent office rejected.
- State-of-the-Art Search – You must conduct a state-of-the-art search if your idea would advance the development of a specific industry.
- Infringement Search – You only need to do one of these if someone sues you for infringement.
- Validity Search – This search will show if an existing patent claim is valid or not
If you need help dicing on which type of patent search you need, you can ask professional patent research to go through the databases for you.
Are Patents the Public Record?
Despite what you may believe, all patented information is public and accessible by anyone. In the United States, you can even read patent applications. Thus, a patent search is an easy way to collect competitive business intelligence about your competition without infringing on anyone’s privacy.
Now, that does not mean that you can access all of it. The U.S. patent office generally publishes patent applications 18 months after their initial filings. However, they will keep confidential any application that has a non-publication request or is under a government secrecy order.
Can You Patent Something That Already Exists?
Because the USPTO gives out patents for useful innovations, you can patent something that already exists, provided that your idea significantly updates the previous design or function. That means your idea must be completely novel and was never publicly disseminated before or obvious.
This is because the patent office issues three different types of patents:
- Utility – New or improved useful ideas and devices
- Design – Design and appearance of the innovation
- Plant – man-made plant varieties
Therefore, you can still patent your idea if your patent search finds a similar product. You just must make sure that your idea offers a new, never before considered, use for a product, device, or chemical compound.
Other important considerations include:
- Novelty – Your idea was never considered before you did. For instance, you have not revealed your idea to a large audience before your application. The USPTO considers all public displays publicly dissemination.
- Originality – Your idea must bring something new to the table. In others, your idea was not obvious to any experts in the proposed field of utility.
- Useful – Your idea must help people do something before the patent office will grant you your patent. In other words, the USPTO wants to know the benefits your idea brings with it.
Please note that these requirements are for any patent application, and not just for updates to previously existing products.
How Do You Know If Something is Trademarked?
While patent product ideas for physical products and devices, trademarks offer legal protection for valuable words and symbols. They are rewards so you can use them to identify yourself, your products, or your services.
While trademark laws different than those that govern patents, you must make sure your proposed trademark is not already used by someone else before you can use or register it. If you do not do this, you leave yourself open for litigation for trademark infringement.
Trademarks come in two forms: unregistered and registered. Registered trademarks work similarly to patents. Unregistered trademarks are public announcements of ownership with their legality varying from state to state.
If the owner registered the trademark, you are in luck. Registered trademark searches work very similar to patent searches. They use similar tools and procedures such as USPTO’s free Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS).
Beware of alternate spellings, though. The USPTO rewards registered marks for the application name as well as any spelling variants and similar pronunciations. This also applies to any related goods or services.
The TESS database offers several types of searches, and you must use the one appropriate for your mark.
The TESS trademark types include:
Please note, that you must first check USPTO’s Design Search Code Manual before you conduct any design trademark search you do.
You should also use the USPTO’s Acceptable Identification of Goods and Services Manual to check for potential related products and services.
Also, TESS does not list unregistered trademarks. If your state recognizes them, you must search for them elsewhere.