These are among the most frequent questions I hear. Many of my clients have heard of doing a patent search. Some have even started one themselves. This article will explain what a patent search is, the benefits of doing one, and what you can expect to pay.
Patents are written documents that issue from the United States Patent & Trademark Office (“PTO”) and other countries’ patent offices. Patents protect you from other people copying your invention. If you are considering applying for your own patent, it is important to know how your invention compares with what other people have done before. This is called “prior art.” Sometimes, you will hear a patent search called a prior art search. A prior art search can help you decide whether it is worth spending the time and money to apply for a patent application. It can also help you decide what kind of patent is best for you, and how best to write the application.
The PTO keeps a record of all patents dating back over 200 years. If you visit www.uspto.gov, you can search online all U.S. patents (and many patent applications) for free. Other countries have similar databases which you can explore at no cost. Because there are millions of patent documents to consider worldwide this task can become overwhelming.
If so, you can hire a professional patent search firm. Before engaging any one, you should do your due diligence. In my experience, you get what you pay for. A skilled patent searcher will have a technical degree, native proficiency in the English language and training in how patents are classified. Many are patent attorneys, patent agents or former patent examiners. A patent search that you can rely on is not as easy as typing in a couple of key words. There is a definite strategy to searching patents, involving synonyms, alternate spellings, prefixes, suffixes, root words, acronyms, position in the patent document, syntax, terms of art, patent classification, and combinations of these. A reputable search company will have a review process for quality control.
For a typical consumer product, you should expect to pay about $650 for a quality patent search. It takes about two weeks, occasionally less. For the $650, you will typically receive a list of relevant patents and non-patent documents. The documents by themselves will not tell you whether your invention is patentable. For that, you must take the search to a qualified patent attorney or patent agent. He or she can give an opinion of the search. You should expect to pay an additional fee for the opinion. The more documents to review, the more this will cost. Many attorneys offer flat fee or a bundled price for the search and opinion. This may be $2000 or more, depending on the art and how crowded with patents it is.
In my experience, it is worth investing in a pre-filing prior art search. You may learn that your product has been done before or that you have too much competition. This may be money well spent in the long run, when you consider the time and cost of advertising, marketing and filing a patent application that has no chance of issuing. To find out if a patent search is right for you, please call me any time.