How to Find Out If Someone Has Already Patented Your Idea

by Anna Assad

    Checking to see if your idea has already been invented before applying for a patent saves you time and money. A patent gives you exclusive rights to the product or idea you invented and a way to fight intellectual property theft. The United States Patent and Trademark Office checks your idea against existing patients and pending applications during the application process. Your patent will be rejected if it's too similar to an existing patent, costing you the application fee. While you might find ideas that are similar to yours, you can still patent your idea as long as you show on the application how your take on the patent object is new. You can search for existing patents using various methods, including the USPTO's online database or in person at a field office.

    Step 1

    Go to the official website of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Use the "Full-Text and Image Database" search to check existing patent applications and images. Both full applications and images are available for patents filed after 1975. You can also search imaged copies of applications filed between 1790 and 1975. Search existing patents using words that appear in or describe your idea. Check all results against your idea.

    Step 2

    Locate the Patent and Trademark Depository Library nearest you. The staff can help you with researching patents and questions about similarities between your idea and an existing patent. Use the library search on the United States Patent and Trademark Office's official website to find a library in your state.

    Step 3

    Contact the USPTO's Public Search Facility in Virginia at 571-272-3275 for information about visiting in person. You can visit the facility to access various patent search databases, including some patents outside of the United States, and the staff provides research help and a free system training class. Confirm the facility's operating hours and ask the representative any other questions you have about visiting or attending training.

    Tips & Warnings

    • Visit the "Search for Patents" webpage on the USPTO's official website for information on searching for patents in other countries, including Japan and China. Some foreign patent search databases have built-in English translations.
    • Some patents are missing from the online system, as noted at the time of publication, on the United States Patent and Trademark Office's official website. Visit a Patent and Trademark Depository Library to double-check your search results.

    About the Author

    Anna Assad began writing professionally in 1999 and has published several legal articles for various websites. She has an extensive real estate and criminal legal background. She also tutored in English for nearly eight years, attended Buffalo State College for paralegal studies and accounting, and minored in English literature, receiving a Bachelor of Arts.

    Photo Credits

    • Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images