Updated November 6, 2020:

You can't do a provisional patent search online since they aren't published. That's because provisional applications do not yet hold any patent rights; they're just used to get a priority patent filing date. More than that, reading a provisional patent wouldn't do you much good since the patent hasn't yet gone through the whole patent process. That's why you should search for issued and pending patents rather than provisional patents.

You can search for issued or pending patents before submitting your own patent application to see if there's anything related to your invention in the public domain or currently protected by patent law. You also need to review documents and drawings of existing patents to find similar concepts.

A patent search keeps you from wasting time and money on an invention that may be difficult to patent. That's because prior patents might exist that have similar concepts, which could get your patent application rejected. Doing a provisional patent search right will make it more likely your invention will get a patent. It will also help prepare you for any possible rejections.

You'll need to use the United States Patent and Trademark Office's Public Patent Application Information Retrieval (Public PAIR) system and understand how to search for keywords to find similar patents. This could mean simply searching the PAIR database, using patent software to help you analyze information from the database, or hiring a patent lawyer.

Why Is a Provisional Patent Search Important?

Provisional patent searches are not required and generally turn up insufficient information, although researching for and filling out your provisional patent information the right way is important. Since you can only get a patent for a new and one-of-a-kind invention, you need to spend time researching to make sure you really do have an original idea.

The easiest way to search patents is via Google Patents. Think of as many keywords related to your idea that you can, and enter them into the search field. You'll then want to bookmark or print out any related patents before filling out your provisional patent application. This will come in handy when filling out the form, so don't skimp on your research.

If you do find a patent that is exactly the same as your idea, don't try to file a patent. Your application will be rejected, and you'll have wasted time and money on the effort.

Most people find similar patents that may have one or two differences from their ideas. It's OK to still file a provisional patent if that's the case, but you will need to describe the differences. In fact, most new patents are slight improvements on older inventions, so don't let similarities hold you back.

There are only a couple of times when a provisional patent application is made available to the public. When a nonprovisional patent is filed and claims priority over the provisional patent form and the nonprovisional application is either published or granted, then you may find the provisional patent on Public PAIR. Even so, you will still have to enter the nonprovisional application serial number and look under "continuity data" to view the provisional patent application.

In addition to searching for patents on Public PAIR and Google Patent, be sure to check out the worldwide espacenet system. You can also search nonpatent texts such as journals and other documents to see if your idea already exists.

Since doing a provisional patent search is almost impossible, you will need to focus on searching for existing or pending patents. Patent applications in the United States are published after 18 months from the earliest priority date, which is determined with the provisional patent application. This is the type of patent information you will have access to.

When searching for patent information in Public PAIR, look for any daughter documents, which are files related to the main patent documents. This may require entering the application number in other databases, such as AppFT. You can also make a written request to the Patent Office.

Doing research before filling out your provisional patent application is a must, but you must do it right. When a provisional patent application is filled out wrong, it may come back to bite you. In some cases, you could be told there was no invention or have your idea stolen. That's why you want to research everything you can so you don't fall prey to criminals.

Be wary of people online offering provisional patent courses and methods for completing a provisional patent application. Not only are these courses misleading, but they can also put your potential patent at risk.

Unless you hire a patent professional, such as a patent agent or lawyer, there's a chance you could end up losing time, money, or even your idea.

When filling out your provisional patent application, don't leave anything out. You'll need to include:

  • Photos, drawings, and text explaining your invention and how it works
  • Information explaining the way the idea will be used
  • Any known competitors

Frequently Asked Questions

Patent searches start at about $475 for mechanical inventions with average complexities. When hiring a professional to do the search for you, expect to pay at least $100 per hour.

  • Why should I do a patent search?

A patent search saves you time and money on what could be an existing patent. It can help you find any new products, avoid lawsuits, provide opportunities to make a product better, and even invalidate a competing patent.

  • Are there any cases where I don't need to do a patent search?

A good patent lawyer can often get you some patent protections even if your idea isn't an important product. If you only want to get a patent but not produce a product, you may not need to perform a patent search at all.

  • Will a patent search guarantee that my invention is patentable?

No. There is no way to guarantee your application will be accepted by the Patent Office.

  • Since you can't guarantee a patent, why waste time and money on the search? Won't the Patent Office do that anyway?

It is true that the Patent Office will perform its own search, but by this point you've already invested a lot of time and money into the patent application before learning the result. Patent applications are expensive and time-consuming, which is why a patent search is necessary.

  • Can I do a patent search myself?

Yes, although it requires a lot of research and time. You'll need to learn patent law and the entire filing process before beginning your search. You will also need to keep track of your findings along the way.

  • What if I don't want to waste my time doing a patent search?

You don't have to do a patent search before filing an application, but if you're serious about patenting your idea, hire a patent lawyer to take over for you.

If you need help with provisional patent filing, you can post your question or concern 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.