What You Need to Know About Prior Art Searches
One of the first things you need to do to get your idea patented is to do a search for prior art. Prior art is a rather broad term that applies to any prior publication of drawings or descriptions of products or patents that might be similar or identical to your idea. Prior art searching can be a little intimidating but spending even a few hours doing research will help you uncover whether your idea is unique or whether something similar already exists out in the world.
You should begin your search by brainstorming different ways to describe your product. Think about all the potential terms someone might use to search for your idea. This might include features and benefits of your product, how it works, what it is made of, and why someone might use it. You need to come up with keywords and synonyms that narrowly describe your product idea. You can even use Google AdWords to help you find alternate relevant search terms that someone might use.
It is a good idea to be very organized and methodical about your search. Take notes – ideally keep a spreadsheet of your search terms and collect URLs for any results that seem even slightly similar to your idea so you can easily go back and do more investigation later if needed.
Start by using the site search on the USPTO website, which can be found in the upper righthand corner of the home page, to find the correct cooperative patent classification schema and begin reviewing existing patents in your category. You can find more information about how to search the USPTO site here. Navigating the USPTO website can be tricky, so you may have more luck using Google Patents search. One benefit of a Google patents search is the results include a small thumbnail making it easier to scan for designs similar to your own. As you review patents be sure to read the descriptions and claims since the drawings may not always reflect everything being protected by the patent.
You will also need to search non-patent websites and publications which might include trade journals, newspapers, magazines, academic papers and dissertations. In order to be sure your idea is eligible for a worldwide patent you’ll need to do similar searching with the European Patent Office and global publications.
Conducting a full prior art search can be complicated and very time consuming but you should always start by doing some preliminary searches to get a feel for the landscape. A few hours of searching can save you a lot of time and money. Eventually, it may make sense to hire a professional service to help you do a comprehensive search. You may find that there are products or patents that are similar to your idea, but not exactly the same. A professional can help you determine whether your idea is different enough to still be patentable. If you’d like to learn more about conducting a prior art search, or about any aspects of getting your invention patented, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.