There are a number of reasons why you might to do a patent search. For instance, if you think you’ve invented something really cool, you can freely search patent ideas online and find out if your product is patentable or if someone else had your really cool idea first. Some things that may help you with your patent search are some definitions and terms that you may or may not be familiar with, what is and isn’t patentable, and how to get a United States patent.
Patent search Definitions
Even though you are more than likely familiar with some of the following words, they might have slightly different meaning in this context.
- Patent: right of ownership granted by the government to a person that gives the owner the right to exclude others from making, selling or using the claimed product. Also referred to as trade marks.
- Product: a new and useful article, machine, composition, or process, devised as a result of someone’s imagination.
- Patent Applications: a document describing a product in detail, which is to be submitted to a patent office with the aim of obtaining a patent on the product.
- Reduction to Practice: an in depth description of how the product works, described in concrete terms.
- Prior Art: the existing or publicly available knowledge available before the date of a product or more than one year prior to the first patent application date.
Types of Patents
There are three main kinds of patents that you can get. Each one differs based on the nature of your product, and are as follows:
Utility - Utility is the most common kind of trade mark and includes any inventions that function in a new and useful manner.
Design - As implied by the name, this type of patent focuses on design rather than function. This type of patent relies on the product’s unique form or appearance.
Plant - You might not have thought that plants were patentable, but any new varieties of asexually reproduced plants can be patented. A plant breeder can patent different types of dahlias or lilies.
What is Patentable?
Now, let’s take a look at what inventions can be patented under each of these three different kinds of patents. First off we have inventions of utility; inventions of utility have to fall into one of five different statutory classes in order to be considered patentable. These are the following:
- Process – this includes conventional processes as well as software processes.
- Machines – this includes both conventional machines and software machines. Machines are also often defined as having moving parts, such as a fridge or a DVD player.
- Manufactures products – these are considered to be items that don’t have moving parts, like books or coffee tables.
- Compositions of matter – examples of this include any pharmaceuticals, alloys, or chemicals.
- New uses of any of the above
Besides fitting into one of the above categories, the product that you want to trademark must be useful. There are, however, different definitions of useful. For instance, some might people might not consider board games to be useful, but they’re meant to be used for entertainment, at which they succeed.
Whatever you want to patent must also be uniquely your intellectual property. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be similar to something else, but it must have something unique about it. For instance, take toasters vs. toaster ovens. They are definitely similar in nature, yet they have unique aspects that make them different products.
Last but not least, your product must not be completely obvious to other independent inventors. This means that your product would not seem obvious to someone who has knowledge and experience in the area that your product fits into. For example, if all microwaves were black and you ‘invented’ a red microwave and tried to patent it, it wouldn’t work.
What Generally Can’t You Patent?
Now let’s look at things that, generally speaking, you cannot patent. These include merely changing an existing product’s size, form, or shape. Inventions where you’ve merely added on some parts or taken some parts away from someone else’s product are not considered unique, either.
Along with trying to blatantly steal other people’s ideas, you’re not allowed to patent abstract ideas, physical phenomena, and the laws of nature. All literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works should be protected by copyright laws, so you can’t try to patent those either. And, just in case you were getting any ideas, you can’t get a patent for a product that is against the laws of nature or whose only use is illegal in nature.
How Do You Do a Patent search?
The best and easiest way to do a patent search is by patent classification. A Patent Classification is a code used to categorize a product. These classifications are normally shown with the class of the product first, followed by a slash and the subclass of product. Classes and subclasses have titles which provide a short description and/or definition of the class or subclass. Many Classes and subclasses have explicitly defined relationships to one another, which lets you search patents more easily.
There are a lot of internet patent search systems, and one of the top level domains is Google patents. If you do an internet patent search using Google’s patent search system, you can just type in a word. If you type in the word “spork,” you will find a foldable spork that is currently listed as patent D07/643. If you read on, you will find that sporks fall under the class of D07: “Equipment for preparing or serving food or drink not elsewhere specified,” and within the subclass of 643: “combination or integral form of fork and spoon.”
How Do I Get My Patent?
Okay, let’s say you’ve made sure that your product fits the requirements and you did a thorough patent search to make sure that your patent won’t infringe on someone else’s intellectual property. Now, how do you go about getting your patent? First off, you need to fill out a patent application.
Keep in mind, patent applications are legal documents where you will need to describe your product in considerable detail. Luckily, you can do this online. If you go to the official U.S. Patent Office (USPTO) site (http://www.uspto.gov/), you’ll be able to find the link to fill out and submit your patent forms online. You can also do a fee schedule check, search patent data, check on the status of your applications, etc. (If you are Canadian, you can also check out the Canadian patents database).