An app patent search is a way to check for existing patents on an app you've created. It's also a way to gain new ideas and keep up with what another person or company in your field is doing. 

What Is a Patent?

A patent clearly and specifically describes an innovative technology and is readily available to the public to read. The government issues a patent to inventors so that no one else can make, use, or sell that invention. The time frame lasts from the date of patent approval to a max of 20 years from the date of patent application.

The inventor has to provide a complete description of the invention to give the public the chance to benefit from advancements in education and technology provided by the invention.

Inventors who wish to keep the information about their creation secret but sell the creation are considered to hold a trade secret. If another person discovers the trade secret or develops the creation independently, that person can then apply for a patent for it or make the information public.

Patent infringement is what happens when a person makes, sells, or uses someone else's patented item without getting permission. It's possible to sue for damages if you think someone has infringed on your patent. Inventors may file for provisional patents or have a patent professional review their application to ensure it's complete.

Meeting Criteria for Obtaining a Patent

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office uses specific criteria in determining the eligibility of patents. The three criteria that a creation must meet for patentability include the following: 

  • Utility:  The invention must work or have a valid, useful function. For example, a lock must lock; otherwise, it's useless.
  • Novelty: The invention has to be original.
  • Inventiveness: The invention must improve on existing technology or be a new development. It can't be a creation that's obvious to a person working in that particular field or industry. For example, a door lock has to improve upon existing lock technology.

An invention may be any of the following: 

  • A product 
  • A process 
  • A composition 
  • A machine 
  • An improvement on any of the above

A company may sue for patent infringement even if someone legally obtains a patent. The criteria for getting a patent shows how important it is to conduct a thorough patent search.

The USPTO used to use a “first-to-invent” standing to grant patents when two or more people who had the same creation applied for a patent. The USPTO currently uses a “first-to-file” standard, so whoever files for the patent first receives it (granting the application is appropriate and complete). It's worth moving quickly if you believe you have a creation worth patenting. Conduct a search as soon as possible and then file.

Searching for Existing Patents

Searching patent documents can help with any of the following: 

  • Discovering new product lines that can be licensed or used without a license 
  • Identifying developments and trends in specific technological fields 
  • Identifying unproductive branches of inquiry by researching the art's current state 
  • Finding information that prevents duplicate research 
  • Finding a solution to a technical problem 
  • Keeping up with the work of a certain company or person and checking which patents they've applied for or been granted 
  • Getting new research ideas in a specific field

A patent search looks at published patents in relation to your creation. You can see if someone else has already patented your idea. 

To conduct the most thorough search, you should do so in person at the USPTO library in Arlington, Virginia. To make it more convenient for the public, the USPTO has libraries in big cities throughout the country. There, people can find patents for inventions that seem similar to theirs. They can study the patents on microfilm or in hard copies.

To see patent applications in an online database, begin at the USPTO Full-Text Database site. An internet patent search is useful, but getting full results may be difficult and limited by user experience or the content in the databases.

While patent searches are time-consuming and can be expensive, you must do the work to ensure you don't infringe on another person's patent. By doing the search as soon as you feel you have a valuable creation, you increase the odds of protecting your rights.

If you need more information about app patent searches, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.