Do you think that you have a great idea for a new product? If you believe that you have invented something that other people could use, you could potentially start your own business based on that novel idea. This post is the first of a series about how to explore the possibility of patenting your idea, getting your product into production, and marketing it to the public.
Before you do anything else, you must make sure that you do in fact have a unique idea. I know, I know, finding out that someone else has already patented “your” genius idea can be a real buzz kill. It’s much better than the alternative, though – investing all sorts of time and money into producing a product that you have no right to sell because someone else patented the idea first. How, then, do you find out whether your idea is unique?
The process of determining whether you have a unique idea is called a patent search. When you do a patent search, you are searching not only for existing U.S. patents for “your” idea but also foreign patents and patent applications. If you live near Washington D.C., you can do your patent search at the U.S. Patent Search Facility. Fortunately, proximity to our nation’s capital is not essential to performing a patent search. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has a web site where you can do your patent search. Conduct your search using key words that describe your invention. Try a few different key words to make sure that you are doing a thorough search. If you wish, you may hire someone to do a patent search for you but please do your homework and make sure that the search provider is reputable. This is a good time for me to mention that the field of invention and patenting is fertile territory for scammers and others seeking to make a buck off of would-be inventors. Keep your ideas closely guarded and be relentless about making sure that any service provider that you choose to get involved with is reputable.
Even if your idea is unique, you may not be able to patent it. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office sets forth the following criteria for what items may be patented. You may patent a new, non- obvious and useful process including machines, manufactured goods, or substances. You can also patent improvements on machines, manufactured goods, or substances (for example, if you build a “better” mouse trap that is different from any other mouse trap out there). You cannot patent laws of nature or physics, abstract ideas, or inventions that are not useful or are offensive to public morality.
These are just the very first steps down the road towards patenting your invention. If you have an idea that is both unique and patentable, stay tuned for the next part of this how-to series: applying for your patent.