Turning an Invention Idea into Money

Lesson Four: How Do I Conduct a Patent Search for Prior Art?

Find the patent number of any invention and write it down.

Introduction - About These Lessons

A patent search is part of your search for prior art (no, not paintings.) Prior art is any body of knowledge that relates to your invention. Prior art would include previous patents, trade journal articles, publications (including data books and catalogs), public discussions, trade shows, or public use or sales anywhere in the world.

As discussed previously, the search for prior art helps prove the novel and nonobvious legal conditions that are required for a patent to be granted.

The Joys of Conducting a Patent Search

A patent search involves searching different databases to see if your idea has already been patented, to know if you can patent your idea. The results of a good patent search should reveal any identical, similar, or partially similar inventions to the one you might patent.

As a bonus, viewing and reading already issued patents will:

  • help you to write your patent application
  • help you understand your competition
  • help you avoid patent infringement
  • help you learn more about your field of invention

It is also a good idea to write down any patent assignees that you notice listed in the patents you examine. They may be in the market to license patents in your field of invention - more about this later.

The Main Reason Why

You have to do (or hire someone else to do) a patent search before investing in the cost of patenting. Even if you hire someone else to do the patent search for you and that is highly recommended for beginners - do a preliminary search yourself and bring that research to the intellectual property attorney or agent that you hire.

Doing so will save you money, plus provide the other benefits mentioned above.

The Patent Classification System

Patents are organized by class and subclass of invention, similar to the way books are organized in a library). By using the classification system, you can find and examine patents that are in the same field (class) as your idea.

The tutorial How to Conduct a Patent Search will introduce you to this form of searching, however, this is difficult material to master.


You can conduct your patent search of databases online. You can also visit a specialized library that stores copies of issued patents.

More on Prior Art

Remember, while patent searching is a big part of prior art, it is not everything. If someone has made your invention before you without patenting that still counts against your patentablity. A complete search for prior art might include for example:

  • searching non-patent literature such as any magazine, newspaper, or trade paper article written about inventions like yours
  • also a complete search would include international patent documents (online) and not just those found at the USPTO.

Do not make the mistake of believing that just because no one else is selling your product that it does not already exist.

After determining that your idea is patentable and qualifies for a patent - you now need to decide if the expense of patenting is worth it.

Continue > Lesson 5: Is a Patent Worth Spending Money On?