How Do I Know if My Idea Is Patentable?

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A patent is a set of exclusive rights granted to an inventor for a limited period of time in exchange for detailed public disclosure of an invention. An invention is a solution to a specific technological problem and is a product or a process.

The procedure for granting patents, requirements placed on the patentee, and the extent of the exclusive rights vary widely between countries according to national laws and international agreements. Typically, however, a granted patent application must include one or more claims that define the invention. A patent may include many claims, each of which defines a specific property right. These claims must meet relevant patentability requirements, such as novelty, usefulness, and non-obviousness. The exclusive right granted to a patentee in most countries is the right to prevent others, or at least to try to prevent others, from commercially making, using, selling, importing or distributing a patented invention without permission.

Under the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, patents should be available in WTO member states for any invention, in all fields of technology, and the term of protection available should be a minimum of 20 years. Nevertheless, there are variations on what is patentable subject matter from country to country.

Is Your Idea Patentable?

To see if your idea is patentable:

  • First, check to see if your idea qualifies.
  • Second, learn the basics of the patenting process.
  • Next, do a search for of all previous public disclosures that concern your invention. These public disclosures are called prior art.

Prior art includes any patents related to your invention, any published articles about your invention, and any public demonstrations. This determines if your idea has been patented before or publicly disclosed, making it unpatentable.

A registered patent attorney or agent can be hired to do a patentability search for prior art, and a big part of that is searching for U.S. and foreign patents that compete with your invention. After an application is filed, the USPTO will conduct their own patentability search as part of the official examination process.

Patent Searching

Conducting a thorough patent search is difficult, particularly for the novice. Patent searching is a learned skill. A novice in the United States could contact the nearest Patent and Trademark Depository Library (PTDL) and seek out search experts to help in setting up a search strategy. If you are in the Washington, D.C. area, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) provides public access to collections of patents, trademarks, and other documents at its Search Facilities located in Arlington, Virginia.

It is possible, however difficult, for you to conduct your own patent search.

You should not assume that your idea has not been patented even if you find no evidence of it being publicly disclosed. It is important to remember that a thorough examination at the USPTO may uncover U.S. and foreign patents as well as non-patent literature.

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Your Citation
Bellis, Mary. "How Do I Know if My Idea Is Patentable?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 26). How Do I Know if My Idea Is Patentable? Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "How Do I Know if My Idea Is Patentable?" ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2023).