When you create an invention that solves a problem you believe no one else has, time is of the essence.

That’s because, in the United States, the first person to stake claim to the invention is the one that gets the patent down the road. You may be wondering how to patent an idea.

Have you conducted a patent search online?

Before you contact a patent lawyer to move forward with your patent application, it may be worth the time and effort to do a preliminary patent search online to determine if your idea is really original, unique, and novel in the marketplace.

It is possible that it has already been patented, or is in the process of being patented, without your knowledge.

Patent searches were a lot more difficult (and expensive) to conduct in the past than they are now. Just a few years ago, most people needed to hire a lawyer or professional patent searcher to determine if someone else had already patented (or attempted to patent) their idea.

Many inventors would skip over this important step because of the red tape and cost.

Fortunately, that is no longer the case. A basic patent searches can be conducted by the inventor him or herself online at a minimal expense, and in some cases, for free.

Of course, your attorney will run a more comprehensive search later that will unlikely uncover things that your search did not, but this is still a great place to start.

The first place I would visit is the website for the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Simply go to www.uspto.gov to search the government’s database of patents back to 1976.

You can also look at patent applications back to 2001, and bibliographic searches (i.e. invention name, patent number) from 1790 to today.

Google also offers a free patent search at https://patents.google.com/. The benefit of a Google Patent search vs. The USPTO’s search is that it includes text-searchable U.S. Patents dating back to 1790.

Finally, for more comprehensive searches (including worldwide searches) there are a number of fee-based searching companies that can be utilized such as Delphion, Thomson-Reuters Patent Web, and PatBase.

No matter which service you choose, conducting a preliminary patent search online is a great first start in your patent journey.

If your research points you to the conclusion that your idea is unique and possibly patentable, the next step is to get in touch with a qualified patent attorney to walk through your next steps.

Be advised that very intelligent engineers and other highly skilled people are much too quick to conclude that an idea is not patentable.

Yet, they are missing out on many great financial homeruns! Don’t make that same mistake. Always ask a patent attorney to help you interpret the results of your preliminary search so you can make a fully-informed decision about whether or not your idea may be patentable over the prior art.

If you would like to schedule a consultation with the lawyers of Thompson Patent Law, simply call (512) 991-0183 to get started.