Top five patent research tips
One of the basic requirements for any invention to be patentable is for it to be new. That seems pretty obvious, but it's not quite as straightforward as it seems. Your innovation may be a variation on an existing piece of technology and still meet the criteria for novelty: conversely, what appeared to be an original idea may, when deeper research is done, turn up in the most unexpected place.
It's also important to know about the other requirements of a candidate for patenting - utility, innovativeness, and a certainty that it's legally yours to patent. No-one can make you conduct detailed patent research before you apply, but it may save you a lot of time and money in the long run. Here are some things to bear in mind:
• Even the most thorough patent research can only come up with negative results, i.e. it can tell you if your idea is not new, but it can never tell you for certain that it is. Because of this and that they are subject to human judgment, all patent applications have an element of chance in them. If, then, you feel sure that your invention is new, you may decide that a full search is not worth the time or money.
• If your invention does turn up in prior art or another patent, it may not be necessary to abandon it - it may just take some reworking. One way to keep your options open is to file a provisional application, which is cheaper than the full monty and gives you a year to make revisions.
• There are many resources for patent research, but one of the best is the US patent office site, www.uspto.gov. Not only does it have advice on how to go about patenting an invention, but there is an electronic database of all patents going back to 1975. It also stores drawings of patents further back than that, but for full details there are libraries throughout the US , listed on the website. There are millions upon millions of patents but they are divided into classes to make it easier to find ones analogous to yours - again, if you are thinking of doing your own research it may still be worth consulting an expert to determine which are the relevant classifications.
• Patents are not the only kind of intellectual property protection. If you are conducting research, also look into copyright and trademark laws to see if these are more appropriate for you. The US copyright office can be found at www.copyright.gov.