Why bother??

Generally speaking, you can protect your invention to the extent (and ONLY to the extent) that it is new and unusual. To know what is new; you have to first learn what is old.

A preliminary search can provide a good estimate as to how strong a patent you can hope to get. Patents are issued for things that are new and that are not obvious improvements on something else that is already known. A good search usually provides the basis for estimating just what is new and "non-obvious" about an invention -- and that's the only part you can hope to protect anyway.

You can do your own preliminary search on the internet.

There are numerous excellent patent databases available for free and operated by various patent offices. They differ widely in terms of what data are available and how easy or difficult it is to find what you're after. In general, theyíre clunky and anything but user friendly. But Ė theyíve got the data.

Two of the most widely used patent databases are at the US Patent and Trademark Office's site. The USPTO supplies searchable text on allUS patent applications published since 2001 and on all US patents issued since the early 1970s (For quite a while, the cut-off was in 1976, but in early 2006 the PTO began working back from that date to capture data from earlier patents). For patents before the cut-off date, the only data in each record in the search database is the patent number and the patentís subject classification(s)This, of course, means that you can either learn to use the Manual of Classification of Patents (itís on the website too Ė a mere 150,000 or so categories), or miss most of the older (and generally more basic) references. Once you find a citation that appears interesting, you can read the text (if itís new enough) or pull up an image file.

The European Patent Office ESPACE search site provides access to something on the order of 20 million patents and allows you to download complete documents in pdf format. ESPACE has a keyword search interface that is much more user friendly than the USPTOís. Not surprisingly, the most effective way to search this database is by either the EPOís or the World Intellectual Property Organizationís subject classification, both of which are completely different from the USPTOís. Youcan also find search facilities run by the patent offices of Germany, Japan, Australia and many other countries. To see a list of these go to my link page. Many of these sites make it easy for you to download partial or complete patent copies (something that is very inconvenient on the USPTO website).

Donít forget that all the worldís technical knowledge isnít wrapped up neatly in issued patents. To do a thorough search, you need to look at non-patent resources as well. One of the major internet search engines, such as Google will often turn up important prior art. (And thereís also a Google Patents site for searching and downloading copies of US patens).

Both the quality and the completeness of a search on any of these databases depend on

  • the searcher's skill --  frequent users often  find things overlooked by someone who's taking a first stab at it;
  • the subject matter -- for most inventions one has to look further back in history than the two decades or so that are fully searchable on the most popular databases.

You can also arrange for a professional search.

Expect your patent agent or attorney to advise a professional search even if you have done a careful preliminary one. A good search should retrieve 5-10 patents conceptually close to your invention, and should include a patentability report pointing out what appears to be "closest" to each significant feature of your invention. The report should give you a general assessment of how much protection a patent is likely to offer you. Be sure to pay close attention to the list of limitations set by the prior art. An inventor who pursues a patent regardless of the limitations usually gets a worthless patent.

Good professional novelty searches usually cost $500-$1500, depending on the subject area and search method. Please note that the format of a search report and the cost of a search are no guarantee of its quality.

If you want to try a search now, go to my links page and review a recently updated list of sites.


David A. Kiewit
Registered Patent Agent
5901 Third St. South
St. Petersburg FL 33705-5305
+1 (727) 656-0669 voice

+1 (760) 841-0989 fax
questions to:
Copyright 2007-2013 by David A. Kiewit
All rights reserved



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Practical Secrecy

Provisional Appl.


Author! Author!

Utility Patents

First Steps

Design Patents


Steps in getting a US patent

 Searching on the USPTO website




Types of Intellectual Property



I.P. Issues for New Companies

Innovation in Production