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Has your idea already been patented? 5 Ways to Find Out

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Excited by a new idea, a young kid in my neighborhood ran up to me last night. He was playing with a bouncy ball, but kept losing it in the dark. Remembering some glow-in-the-dark stickers in his room, he figured a glow-in-the-dark bouncy ball would be a great idea too.

I rewarded him for his creativity…told him it was a great idea…and gently let him know someone else had already thought of it.

Save Time and Money Before You PatentPatented Bouncy Ball

Before you invest tons of time or money developing your big idea (or unnecessarily paying a patent attorney), you should spend a little time finding out if the idea has already been patented.

The good news is preliminary patent searches aren’t difficult. And it could even make your idea better or more profitable.

Here are the 5 ways inventors can find out if there is a patent on their idea.

Patent Pre-Search Idea #1: Stores

If you idea for a product is sitting on the shelves you probably can’t get a patent on it. This seems obvious, but many inventors have wasted a pretty penny developing their idea only to find out it was on sale at Walmart for 99 cents.

But just because your idea isn’t in a store doesn’t mean it hasn’t been patented. Many inventors have made millions bypassing traditional retail stores and selling through this next avenue…

Patent Pre-Search Idea #2: Direct Sales Companies

Ron Popeil made millions selling his inventions through infomercials. While his Showtime Rotisserie (with the tagline "Just set it and forget it!") sells in stores now, for years it was only available by calling a 1-800 number.

Direct sales companies bypass the middlemen and sell direct to consumers. There are many ways to do this (some include direct TV, door-to-door, telemarketing and direct mail) and if your idea is already patented by a company using direct sales, it may be selling like hotcakes even though it’s never been in a retail store.

Patent Pre-Search Idea #3: Industry Publications

I’m looking at a magazine right now called Tech Briefs. It highlights engineering solutions for design and manufacturing. In the back there are no less than 6 pages devoted to new products for the design and manufacturing field.

There are trade journals like this in EVERY industry. And they are a great place to start researching your idea (and possibly finding companies to partner with if your idea is granted a patent).

Patent Pre-Search Idea #4: U.S. Patent and Trademark Depository LibrariesPatent library

Patent depository libraries are an excellent resource for patent research. The US Patent & Trademark Office runs about 80 of these throughout the US (there are four in my home state of Florida alone, one in Miami close to my Coral Springs office). These libraries are filed with extensive collections and have qualified department staff eager to help you.

Patent Pre-Search Idea #5: Internet

Fast, convenient and free, the internet is a great place to start your patent search. And it is an excellent way to increase your general knowledge of the field of your invention. However, it is nowhere near being comprehensive (and may not even be that reliable).

Here are two good websites for you to start your online patent search.

  • www.patents.ibm.com – this was one of the first online search databases for patents. An
  • www.USPTO.gov, the official website of the US Patent & Trademark office.

With that being said, if you decide to patent your idea then you should still hire a patent attorney. The patent attorney will do a thorough search (either in the Public Search Room at the U.S. Patent and Trademark office of through expensive specialized patent commercial databases).

If you need patent help call my Fort Lauderdale Patent office toll free at 1-866-433-2288.

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