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What is a Patent Search?

If you have a brilliant idea for an invention, you'll want to undertake a patent search right away. A patent search can clarify whether your invention is truly new and non-obvious so you don't waste money and time protecting and developing something that has already been invented.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office ("USPTO"), which has kept records of all patents since 1790, refers to inventions as "prior art." This implies that something is "state of the art" or "new." Searching government records through the USPTO will allow you to determine whether your idea is truly new. The first step in conducting a patent search is to figure outwhat kind of patent you seek. You may patent (1) a useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter (any invention with a practical application, known as a utility patent); (2) a plant (new plant species that can reproduce asexually); or (3) design (a product with a strictly ornamental purpose).

The next step is to brainstorm all keywords that describe or are related to your invention. For instance, consider words that describe what the invention does or achieves; what the product is made of; and what it's used for. Using a thesaurus and technical dictionary will help you make sure the search covers all terms and language, even language that would be considered outdated today.

The USPTO website includes an index to the Patent Classification system, which can be viewed in html or PDF format. Using your list of keywords, click on the first letter of your first keyword. When you click on the letter you will see a list of words with two numbers after each one. The first number is the class number, and the second is the subclass number. The class number reflects a general category and the subclass reflects a specific type of invention. The USPTO suggests scanning the lists for all keywords and writing down any relevant class and subclass numbers. Then, you'll want to open the page for each relevant class and check for any potentially related subclasses. Within each subclass, you can decide if the description is relevant to your invention.

The next step is to review existing patents and patent applications by accessing the U.S. Patent Classification ("USPC") "Patent Full Text" and Application Full Text databases. You can search by class and subclass to see similar patents and patent applications. There is another list of categories you'll want to check. It is the Cooperative Patent Classification ("CPC") system. The CPC is a joint partnership between the USPTO and the European Patent Office to harmonize their existing systems. There are charts to correlate the CPC categories with the USPC classes and subclasses. At the end of the search, if no other invention seems too similar, you can proceed with filing a patent.

For assistance with patenting your invention, contact the experienced Orange County IP lawyers at Myers Berstein today.

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