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"There's nothing new under the sun" is probably the one phrase no inventor wants to hear, seldom believes, and is always trying to prove wrong.
However, moving too quickly to prototype stage and first disclosure can turn out to be costly for the inventor who doesn't take the time to find out if his or her invention is already patented.
Yet, with over 3000 utility patents being issued each week in the United States, that can seem like a daunting if not downright impossible task.
So, what can the inventor do to get the information - and assurance - he needs to proceed with his work?
The first thing to do is conduct a preliminary search of patents at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Public Patent Search Room, which contains U.S. patents arranged according to the U.S. Patent Classification System of over 460 classes and over 136,000 subclasses. The Patent Search Room, located in Arlington, Virginia, is open to the public from 8 AM to 8 PM, Monday to Friday, except on federal holidays.
If you don't live near Arlington, you don't need to make travel reservations. Instead, you can access the searchable database containing patent information for all U.S. patents granted since 1976 and all patent application publications (first published in March 2001), on the USPTO web site at http://www.uspto.gov/go/pats.
Inventors can also perform a preliminary search of patents at one of the Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries (PTDLs) established throughout the United States. These libraries have copies of patents in microfilm and/or optical disc format arranged in numerical order. They have classification search tools, automated search aids, and photocopy facilities available to the public. For information on your nearest PTDL, you may visit the PTDL web site at http://www.uspto.gov/go/ptdl.
Another option is to use specialized software like Patent Hunter?, a program which is designed to simplify the search process and to allow you to conduct a more complete search. For information about Patent Hunter, go to www.patenthunter.com.
You can also have a patent attorney or agent conduct a complete search for you. If you do not yet know a patent attorney or agent and would like to retain one, there are several ways to do so.
If you are a member of an inventors' organization, networking with other inventors to learn which attorneys in your area get rave reviews can be one of the easiest and most effective ways to find good counsel. And, if you don't find using the Yellow Pages appealing, you might also want to contact your state the law association for a list of attorneys practicing IP law. Finally, if you choose to conduct an internet search, you will want to check out the USPTO listing of registered patent attorneys and agents by going to http://www.uspto.gov/do/oed,.
Whatever method you use to verify that your invention is unique and hasn't been patented, acting early in the invention process can save you significant time and money. Or, if you discover someone already holds the patent, reviewing their design may inspire your creativity and lead you to add some "bells and whistles" that takes the idea to the "next level" and allows you to secure a patent on a superior product.
© 2004. All rights reserved. Impact Coaching International? You may copy or distribute this article free of charge as long as it is kept intact and sent in its entirety including copyright notice and full information about contacting the author, Rosemary Hauschild.
Rosemary Hauschild is a business coach serving creative individuals developing intellectual property. Impact Coaching International? offers a year-long program showing creative individuals how to protect, promote and profit from their innovative ideas in less time and with more profits. This coaching program is delivered through quarterly workshops, teleconference calls, web casts, fax and email. Individual coaching services are also available. To learn more about how to protect and promote your intellectual property, you are invited to subscribe to the free e-zine, Creations Of The Mind?, by sending an email to email@example.com with the following phrase in the subject line of your e-mail: subscribe creations list.
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