You surely have thought of new product ideas that stem from your everyday life. “My idea is the perfect solution for that problem,” you say to yourself. We all have ideas all the time for new products and better solutions than existing products offer. But few people act on those thoughts. Maybe it’s because you think it will be too hard or someone else must of thought of this before. Well, you are right: it will be hard, and someone may have thought of it already. But I’ve heard it said that the first step is always the toughest. So why not take it?
One of the first steps in determining if you should further pursue your grand invention is to search if anyone else has already patented the idea. Everyone thinks their idea is unique, but a patent search will often reveal others that have thought of your idea already. But the only way to know if your idea is novel is a deep dig into the patent database and find out.
There are three general way to do a patent search:
Hire a Patent Attorney (Get referrals from trusted sources locally)
This is the course of least resistance as far as getting it done right and quickly. But the tradeoff is patent attorneys are expensive. Patent attorneys either perform the search themselves, have an in-house researcher (often a patent agent), or contract with a patent search company.
You can hire a patent attorney after you have done your own research to see what else is out there. The more involved your idea is, or if there are somewhat similar ideas patented like yours, the more you will likely need a professional to give you direction and advice.
Most attorneys will give you a quote first for a patent search. The cost for a patent search done at a law firm can vary quite a bit, but a good average is $500 to $2000 (U.S. only). Attorneys can also tell you the likelihood of the patent-ability of your invention. Basically they will give their opinion on whether your idea will pass through the USPTO office without too much trouble.
Hire a Patent Search Company (Stick to a referred company that is trusted and ideally local)
A cheaper route to go is to hire a company that specializes in researching patents and existing intellectual property. There are some good reputable companies out there, but the non-law firm route is filled with fraud and companies that over promise and under deliver. If you found it on an infomercial, it is not likely to be your best choice.
Again, you need to obtain a quote first and see if the value the search firm can bring is worth it. You will also need to make sure the company has familiarity with your industry by asking lots of questions. Ask around first. If you are unsure of what to do, ask your trusted local SBDC or Chamber of Commerce.
The cost of a patent search firm is usually cheaper than an attorney and averages from $100 to $1000 for a basic search. They can also give you a patent-ability opinion.
Hire Yourself (Get used to hiring yourself if you plan to commercialize your idea)
The most inexpensive and time consuming route is to do it yourself. Since it only costs your time, you can’t beat the price. But it will also be the longest route, since you will be doing it on your own and you’ve probably never done it before. But I’ve never heard that going into business for yourself was easy. Fun, challenging, stressful, exciting, sleep depriving, rewarding…….well yes. But never easy.
So unless you have deep pockets, you have little to lose in attempting your own patent search.
The Internet is a great place to do all kinds of market research on your idea. So you can do your own patent search online. Now it does take some trial and error to learn how to do this correctly. If you have used a search engine to any degree in the past, you will be able to do it. But it will take some time. You can do at least some preliminary searching, providing you have decent computer and Internet skills.
The focus of your patent search should be on keywords that describe your invention. Much like searching Google or other search engines, the better the description, the more accurate the results will be. I recommend using both the sources online and comparing your results. The benefit of doing it yourself will really help you to better tweak your idea, and it will prepare you for the next potential steps in the patent process.
Final Thoughts (We consultants like to sum things up nice and tidy at the end)
Any time I work with someone with an idea they want to protect, I advise them that the idea is the easy part. The execution of the idea is the hard part. A mediocre idea well executed beats a great idea without proper execution any day. Oh, and by the way, more than 90% of patented ideas never commercialize.
So you have to ask yourself, is this an idea worth protecting? Will the market respond favorably to my product? Or will that large company be willing and eager to buy my idea? You hope so, but you don’t really know.
I always encourage entrepreneurship, business ownership, and investing because I believe this is what helps to make a community great. So go for it………and happy searching!
Disclaimer: This information is not legal advice and is for general informational purposes only. Any specific questions regarding your options for protecting your intellectual property, including patents, trademarks, or licensing, should be discussed in detail with an attorney in a confidential setting.