The first step to getting a patent is determining whether someone else already has the patent. Remember the first to file rule? If you’re the first person to come up with the idea, you can patent it and you’ll have a monopoly over that invention’s use for 20 years from the date of your patent application.
Not so long ago, a patent search required hiring a lawyer or a professional patent agent, but thanks to the Internet, you can now do your own patent search with minimal effort and cost.
One of the most useful websites for doing patent research is Google Patents (www.google.com/patents) – a useful resource that includes text-searchable patents dating back to the 1790s. Google Patent search is a big improvement over what the United States Patent and Trademark Office offers because many patents are not text-searchable there, plus many patent researchers find Google Patents to be easier and more thorough.
The steps to use Google Patent Search are much like any other search you might perform on the Internet.
Open the URL: www.google.com/patents.
Type the name of the idea or some brief bit of text about the idea.
The patents that match your terms display in a list. Depending on the idea you are trying to patent, you’ll need to think about the related terms because the first search may reveal nothing but that may or may not mean there’s a patent on your idea already.
As an example, we tried typing ‘paper clip’ and we got a whole list of patents around not only the paperclip itself (originally filed in April 1896 by Warren W. Cole) but also paperclip holders, a paperclip tab and other related items.
We also tried typing ‘flying car’ and surprisingly, there are a bunch of patents around flying car ideas – one filed in August 1959 by a Einar Einarsson. It describes ‘an object of this invention to provide a ground vehicle with propellers and wings as well as wing flaps so that the vehicle may take off and fly in the air.’