By Karen Axelton
Does your small business have a great product idea that could make you millions? If so, the first step in protecting your idea is to do a patent search and see whether someone else has already patented your idea or something similar. Here’s what you need to now to get started.
Begin by figuring out whether your idea is patentable. What is required for this? Visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website for guidelines. Most likely, you will be considering a “utility” patent, which covers a “new, nonobvious and useful” process, machine or product. You can also get a “design” patent for the design or ornamentation of a product.
Do you have a patentable invention? Then you’re ready to begin a patent search. It’s wise to do a preliminary patent search before you start the patent process. That way, if you find out someone already has a patent on your idea, you can avoid the investment of time and money in applying for a patent.
The USPTO website lets you do a preliminary search that covers both patent applications and issued patents. Be sure you also check whether the invention has been patented in a foreign country. You’ll find plenty of resources and links to guide you in the process of searching.
If you don’t find anything at the USPTO site, you’re not done yet. You also need to contact the Patent and Trademark Resource Center. You can find the nearest such center on the USPTO site. Experts at these centers can guide you to patent search resources and even train you in how to do a thorough patent search.
If developing a prototype or designing your invention will be costly, you’ll also want to contact a patent attorney with experience in this area before you invest a lot of money into the effort. You can find registered patent attorneys using a search tool on the USPTO website.
This may seem like a lot of legwork, especially considering that once you file an application for a patent, the USPTO will do its own search. However, by doing a preliminary search, you can save yourself time, effort and hassle in the long run.
Image by Flickr user Clearly Ambiguous (Creative Commons)