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Checking whether your idea is new - how to do a patent search yourself.
Remember that it is still better to pay a professional patent searching company to do
this for you.
1) Mental preparation. First off you need to have a good idea of the essential
features of your invention. List all the features you can think of and honestly ask the
following question of each of them: "If I was selling my product/service and someone
else started up with nearly the same thing but lacking this feature - would I be
If the answer is no then cross it off your list. After this process you should have about
3 to 6 items. Try to write a sentence defining your invention using only those features.
Identify a borderline feature - the one you will certainly use but were least certain
about the need to prevent others using.
Now extract keywords from your invention definition which a good description of any
similar invention would have to include. Don't worry if you end up with a list of
alternatives where you should have just one term - language is sometimes like that.
You now have your list of keywords.
2) A net search to warm up. Search the Internet using a few of your keywords at a
time. Use www.google.com, or if it is very scientific use www.scirus.com . This may
bring up any actual current use. If you find a reasonable match here then it may be
time to give up on your invention.
3) Your basic patent literature search. Assuming you didn't find something
damning (and it is likely that you didn't because only a small proportion of inventions
leave a lasting impression on the Internet) the next stage is a basic patent search.
Go to the basic search page at ep.espacenet.com . Type in up to three of your
keywords and see what documents are found. Espacenet doesn't accept more than 3
keywords and won't return more than 500 results. If you get more than about 200
results then you need to be more specific. Vary your keywords and try to think of all
the different ways that related inventions would be described. Look out for words with
differing US and UK spellings.
Although this is not as sophisticated as the next part, it is important to do broad
searches like this because some examiners (particularly in the US) don't classify
patent applications carefully.
Take a note of any interesting documents and also the international classifications of
the closest documents you find.
4) Your advanced patent search. Look at your list of international classifications
and identify the most common one or two codes. These codes are the invention
categories with which examiners classify applications. Go to the classification search
page and find the classifications. Identify the ones in which you would expect an
examiner would classify your invention.
Now go to the advanced search page. Type a defining keyword into "Keyword(s) in
title or abstract:" box and include all but the last two numbers of a suitable
classification in the "International Patent Classification (IPC):" box. Now you are
searching like a pro.
Keep this up - spend a whole day and do a thorough job. Try all the permutations you
can think of.
6) Drawing conclusions. When you are too tired to continue, bring together your
results and look for the closest document (Doc A) - the one which has most (hopefully
not all) of the essential features of your invention (not including your borderline
Imagine if a skilled (in the relevant fields of technology) person read this document -
what inventive leap would he need to make to think of your invention (as defined in
your defining sentence)? If he would not need to be very imaginative then Doc A is
damaging by itself.
Otherwise - look for another document in your list which would lead him to think of
your invention. If you don't find one then do a quick patent search for one using the
techniques described above. If you can find one then Doc A that combined with your
second document are potentially damaging.
If you found a damaging document or a damaging combination then you are likely to
fail in obtaining patent protection for these features. See if the addition of your
borderline feature helps. If not - what other features would you have to include?
If after all this you haven't found a damaging document or combination, then there is
reason to be optimistic that you will be able to get patent protection for your invention!
It is important to remember that there is no such thing as a complete patent
or literature search. All that is possible is to spend a reasonable amount of
time in a focused manner. It is therefore not possible to determine positively
that no damaging prior documents exist.
Read our overview of issues that inventors should know about.
Warning: Nothing in this document constitutes legal advice. Talk to a business
advisor and an intellectual property advisor in your country before taking any action
or making any decisions.
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