Saturday, July 3, 2010

Is My Invention Patentable? How Do I Find Out!

If you have a great idea for a new invention but don’t know exactly what to do next, you might want to consider doing a patentability search. There are a number of good reasons to do a patent search right away.

Obviously the primary reason to do a patent search is to find out if someone else has already conceived of your idea. You can save yourself a lot of grief by finding out your invention idea has already been patented by someone else. You may also be able to modify your idea so that it doesn’t infringe on someone else’s patent and still gets you some protection.

I remember back years ago I had what I thought would be a great invention, a new kind of diaper for babies. My reasoning was that you could put something like litmus paper or some type of dye in the absorbent material, or between the absorbent material and the think plastic covering that would change color when it got wet.

You wouldn’t have to stick your fingers down in the diaper to see if it was wet. You could tell at a glance. I did a patent search and discovered that some large company had patented that very idea years prior. I think it was Proctor & Gamble but I don’t remember for sure. If Proctor and Gamble isn’t marketing it after getting a patent there must be some sort of significant problem with the idea. I just moved on.

Another reason for doing a patent search is that you will probably uncover patents of similar inventions and this can give you insight into how to further improve your invention or potentially find new uses for it and that kind of thing.

After studying the results of your patent search you will have a much better idea about how to write you patent. You can see from the other patents what kinds of drawings and descriptions you will need. If you uncover prior art relating to your invention you will be better prepared to write your patent in a way to circumvent problems created by existing prior art.

Before you invest the $500 or so for a professional patent search you should do a preliminary online patent search yourself. There are substantial limitations to an online patent search. You can do your search for free at the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) website, and Google has a patent search feature, but the patents only go back as far as 1976. For most situations this doesn’t go back far enough to be considered a good search. Another problem is the search won’t include foreign patents, and the PTO does look at the foreign patents.

The USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) uses a classification system whereby it groups patents together in various ways. It would be helpful for you if you go to the USPTO website and check out the “Handbook of Classifications”.

Go to the USPTO home page and on the top toolbar click on “patents”. On the patents page there will be a blue box on the left with navigation links. Click on “Resources and Guidance link”. Then click on “Patent Classification”. This takes you to a page full of classification information including the aforementioned “Handbook of Classifications”. Study up on the classifications and get a good feel for how the system works, it will help a lot when you do your search.

Once you understand the classifications you can then do your preliminary online patent search and start to make some tangible progress in your quest for that next big idea.

If you want to become a near expert on doing patent searches and protecting your invention with patents, trademarks, trade secrets and other intellectual property rights I would suggest you purchase a book called “Patent It Yourself” from Nolo press by David Pressman. It’s an excellent resource for learning all about protecting, patenting, and even marketing your new invention or idea.