How to do a U.S. Patent Search

Written by Christi Hayes and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

It is often said that the most valuable product in today's economy is an idea. Indeed, every great business and product began as an idea. Patents help inventors protect and profit from their ideas by ensuring that other people or businesses cannot simply steal those ideas and use them for their own monetary gain. For entrepreneurs and small business owners, doing a U.S. patent search is often a necessary step towards ensuring that their great idea has not already been patented by somebody else. By verifying that such an idea has not already been patented, business owners help protect themselves from infringing on another person's patent rights. Here are a few ways people can search for patents in the U.S.

Patent Office

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) should be any entrepreneur's first stop when trying to find a patent. The USPTO is responsible for issuing patents to both individuals and businesses and, as such, is an extremely useful resource for finding patents. There are a number of ways inventors can search for patents through the USPTO. The first and probably the most effective way is to visit the USPTO in person at its headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. This is where all U.S. patents are kept and is, therefore, the best place for verifying whether or not a patent exists. Alternatively, individuals can visit one of the libraries run by the USPTO across the country. Also, the USPTO has an online search function, which can be a little tricky to use at first but may be able to provide at least some information about whether one's idea has already been patented.

Free Patent Searches

The USPTO is not the only place to go to for a patent search. Many online resources also exist for conducting patent searches. Perhaps the most notable online patent search engine is the one run by Google itself. A Google patent search is quick, easy and very intuitive. Other free patent search engines can also be found online.

Professional Patent Searcher

Finally, if no patent is found using the free methods described above that does not mean that such a patent does not already exist. At this point it is extremely important that inventors and businesses contact a professional patent searcher for a more thorough patent search. Professional patent searchers are trained in how to navigate the sometimes bewildering number of patents held by the USPTO. Furthermore, many are licensed by the USPTO itself. While a professional searcher can cost quite a bit of money, it is often a worthwhile investment for ensuring that one does not infringe upon another inventor or business' patent rights.

Filing patents is extremely important for the success of many businesses and failing to patent one's idea could spell financial and legal trouble later on. The first step towards ensuring that one's idea is, indeed, unique is by carrying out a patent search as described above. By beginning with free patent searches and moving on to professional searchers, inventors and businesses will help ensure their ideas are protected and that they do not run afoul of somebody else's patent rights.

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