Inventors often ask how they can find patents related to their idea. Patent searching is not especially difficult, although it can be time consuming.
The goal of patent searching is to understand the prior art related to the invention. This serves several purposes. First, it can help an inventor decide if patent protection is worth pursuing. Second, it can help the patent drafter draft broad claims that avoid the prior art.
Prior art constitutes everything that ever happened prior to the date of invention by the inventor, anywhere in the world. It includes not only patents and patent applications, but other publications and products too.
A through patent search includes a review of patents and patent publications outside the US, as well as patents and patent publications outside the US.
The internet provides excellent access for prior art searching. For example, as simple keyword search in Google or Yahoo can locate similar products.
The internet is also an excellent venue for patent searching. There are a number of patent data bases that provide excellent results.
For example, the United States Patent and Trademark Office has an excellent data base for searches of US Patents and Publications. For Patents outside the US, good places to look include the World Intellectual Property Organization, website (Patent Scope), the European Patent Office search site Espacenet.
The most common approach to searching is to simply type in keywords that reflect the invention, and review the resulting results. Sometimes, however, the search returns too many results. The search can be narrowed by using classifications.
Classifications are the categories that the Patent Offices use to sort and organize patents into groups. Adding a classification to your search can limit your search results and omit extraneous patents that have no relation to your invention. A full explanation of classification searching is beyond the scope of this post, but for the truly dedicated an excellent explanation can be found at the US Patent Office Search Site Classification Help.
These data bases can provide the inventor excellent tools to do their own patent searching. Final decisions about whether to file a patent should always be made in consultation with a patent attorney.