Tips and Tools for Inventors

magnifying glass looking at word patentHow can you be sure that your novel idea, is in fact, novel? Making certain that no other same or similar product exists on the market today is an essential step in the invention process, as it will not only help you obtain patent protection, but it will help you determine whether or not you actually have a market of people who will buy your invention.

Legally, a patent describes the unique details of an invention, grants ownership to one or more people and prevents others from making or selling said invention, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). While a person could, theoretically, take credit for a patented idea and attempt to make money from it, a patent gives the idea’s owner(s) a legal right to take action against those who do so. That’s why it’s important to diligently search for any existing patents, as they could inhibit your ability to profit from your invention.

Before you begin a patent search, it’s important to choose an approach that is based on your intent. For example, if you’re mostly looking for information, a general novelty search using popular search engines is likely the best approach. If you’re looking to take legal action, or defend yourself against it, a more thorough search using public databases, such as the USPTO or Google Patent Search, is likely more appropriate.

Conducting a Novelty Search
So what’s the best way to conduct a basic novelty search? First, conduct a basic Google search. Then, try speaking directly to your target consumers, asking them what sorts of products or improvised solutions they currently use to solve similar problems at hand. If you find that your idea is similar to their answers, but not identical to existing products, there may still be some element of novelty to your idea. You can also use Edison Nation Medical’s inventor resource library for other useful patent and general search tools. 

Conducting a Search For Legal Purposes
Searching the USPTO’s patent records for your idea is the most effective way to ensure nothing like your product has already been developed. Aspiring inventors are able to search using specific keywords or phrases, or, if available, they can use patent numbers or classification codes. If you are searching for already-protected innovative medical devices, you will likely only need to use the text search feature.

Definitions and Types of Patents
While conducting a search for patents and like-products is one thing, understanding the results is another. Here are some general keywords and phrases that may be useful during your search, courtesy of the University of Texas at Austin’s law department:

  • Prior Art: This is any existing or publicly available knowledge more than one year prior to the first patent application date.
  • Utility Patent: As the most common type of patent, it can be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new invention (see definition of invention).
  • Provisional/Non-provisional Patents: A non-provisional, or standard patent, is the most common patent type. A provisional patent filing, on the other hand, provides inventors with a less expensive, 12-month long protection option.
  • Design Patent: This type of patent can be granted to a person who creates a new, original, and ornamental design.

After an exhaustive search, if you find that no previous patents exist, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your idea will be a success. Innovators should take a step back, and determine whether or not their product has a big enough market for commercial success. If you find there is potential, take a concerted look at the competing products on the market, as this will reveal your future potential for profitability.