Existing patents are those that are assigned to an individual or individuals to protect others from manufacturing or selling their inventions. To get a patent, the inventor(s) must file paperwork with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and wait for approval. 

Steps for Searching an Existing Patent

  1. If you have an invention or idea and want to get a patent, you must first search the USPTO database to find out if a patent already exists. 
  2. Narrow down your search to be as specific as possible based on what the invention is and its capabilities. You will want to search for both U.S. and international patents
  3. The USPTO manages three types of patents: utility, design, and plant. Identify which category type fits your invention. The most common is the utility patent, which covers items that produce new results or function in a new way. The design patent covers enhancements to an item that do not affect its functionality. The plant patent covers plants grown using methods such as cuttings or grafts. It does not cover plants that are genetically engineered; these would be covered under utility patents. 
  4. Narrow the search even further by choosing the type of search that will produce the most comprehensive and relevant results. Filter the search for areas such as generic, novelty, state-of-the-art, infringement, or validity.
  5. You also have the option, in many cities, of doing an in-person search at a Patent and Trademark Resource Center. The advantage is having access to the hard copies of the patent paperwork. Some resource centers are at libraries, but patent records must be viewed on site.  
  6. If you choose to do online searches, the USPTO database offers multiple options for searching and provides images of the files.
  7. Patent searches are time-consuming because of the need for filtered and multiple searches to provide the appropriate search results applicable to what you need. To ensure accurate results, you may choose to use the services of a patent attorney.


  • Once an existing patent expires, there is no longer any protection against others infringing on an invention. An expired patent moves to the public domain where it can be used by anyone. 


  • As a patent owner, you have control over how an invention is used as long as the patent is in effect. 
  • When you have an existing patent, it cannot be manufactured, sold, used, imported, or distributed by another individual or company unless the patent owner has been contacted and an agreement is in place between both parties. 


When a patent is approved, the protection is granted by the USPTO for a limited time. The protection period begins from the date the patent application is filed and generally is in effect for 20 years. 


Q. Are there limitations on what can be patented?

A. Inventions can be in multiple fields of technology from the simplest utensil to a high-powered computer chip. An invention can also include a specific process or a product. 

Q. Is the patent office responsible for making sure no one is infringing on my invention?

A. No. It's up to the patent owner to monitor his patent, identify any unlawful activity, and take action through a court of law against those who would infringe on a protected patent. 

Q. Can a patent owner license his invention?

A. Yes. By licensing an existing patent, the patent owner is granting permission for using, manufacturing, or selling his invention to an individual or business. 

Q. What is the benefit of licensing an existing patent?

A. There are several beneficial reasons for granting a license. These include situations such as a lack of manufacturing facilities to produce the invention, additional income stream, the owner's manufacturing facilities are not large enough to produce enough to cover the demand for the product, or the patent owner wants to expand the market into other geographical locations. 

Q. Do I give up my rights if I license my invention to another person?

A. No. As the patent owner, you retain the property rights to the invention. Only when the patent is sold or transferred will ownership of the patent be changed. 

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