Getting a Patent for your Invention

Don’t procrastinate when you have a great idea for an invention. But, don’t be in a hurry to write a check either.

You’re lying awake channel surfing one night, when you see it; one of those ads for an invention promotion company. It reminds you of that breakthrough idea you had a couple of years ago. It was “The Invention” that would set the world on fire, if only you had the time to work on it. But who has the time, or the money? Patents are expensive, often costing $10,000 or more. Then there’s that nagging doubt that someone else probably already thought of it. Maybe you should just forget it?

Check out new Ideas.

Before you hit that channel button, you should know that you can do your own preliminary patent search. If you find your concept isn’t new, you will have saved yourself the endless recriminations of, “I should have” and “if only.” If you don’t find your idea, it will help keep your stomach from turning inside out when you go to write that check for a professional patent search (usually around $500.)

You don’t have to go to the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) in Virginia to perform your preliminary search. Instead, you can jump online and use the PTO’s online database at There you can perform keyword searches of patents issued since 1971. Images of older patents can also be reviewed. More importantly, you can also search the Patent Classification System, and get a list of every patent issued in your idea’s area of knowledge.

Save Time and Money

Performing your own preliminary patent search can save you a lot of time and money. If you want the patent office to grant you a patent on a particular invention, you will have to file what is known as a patent application. It is essential to perform a patent search before filing. Why? Because, filing a patent application, with its associated specification, drawings and fees, is an expensive, time consuming process-often costing up to $10,000. Before you lay out that kind of green, you ought to be reasonably sure your idea hasn’t been trumped by someone else.

If you have lots of ideas and you are trying to select the best one to patent, you can save some really serious money. This is because a professional patent searcher will charge you separately for each invention searched.

The Patent and Trademark Depository Library Network

What if you don’t have a computer and Internet access? What if you’re afraid to touch the keypad without supervision? Then you are in luck. A network of specialized libraries called Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries (PTDLs) exists to serve you. Every state has at least one. At a PTDL, you can use the same online database available to home users. Additionally, you can take advantage of several other computer search tools including; a DVD-ROM system and the enhanced search programs known as EAST and WEST. The USPTO maintains an up-to-date list of contact information for all PTDLs at

More importantly, friendly reference librarians will be there who can be counted on to keep your soul from being sucked into the monitor if you make a mistake.

Adapted from, Patent Searching Made Easy, 4th Edition, by David Hitchcock. ISBN: 978-1-4303-2640-3