How to Find Out If Something Has Been Patented

by Jeff Franco

    The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the federal agency responsible for reviewing applications and determining whether to issue a patent. Since the underlying purpose of a patent is to protect the inventor's rights to a unique invention, similar inventions will not receive a second patent. As a result, it’s imperative that you search the USPTO patent database to find out if something has been patented prior to filling out an application.

    Step 1

    Navigate to the USPTO website. On the left side of the USPTO homepage, choose the option to search the patent database.

    Step 2

    Choose the advanced search option. Conducting your patent search using the advanced search function allows you to use a number of different parameters to base your search on. Using the quick search function scans the same number of patents in the database, but it relies on generic keywords that may provide an overwhelming number of results to review.

    Step 3

    Select the parameters of your search. The USPTO provides you with 31 search parameter options in the field code columns, such as patent application date, the abstract of patents and patent title. Clicking on any of the 31 links in the field name column will direct you to instructions on how to use each of the parameters.

    Step 4

    Input your search criteria into the query box. The USPTO database requires that you enter the parameter and keywords in a specific format in order to generate relevant search results. At the top of the website, as well as in the field code instructions, there are examples of the format in which you must enter your search query for each specific code.

    Step 5

    Select the period of time for your search. Your search can begin with patents from 1976 up to the present, or you can select to go back as far as 1790. However, the database only includes complete information for patents beginning in 1976; pre-1976 patents are only searchable by the issue date of the patent, the patent number and the current U.S. classification.

    Step 6

    Click on relevant search results to determine if a patent exists. Database results are presented in list format and you must click on each result to review the patent information. Each result will provide background information on the invention, the functionality of the invention, and a description of the drawing that will help you determine whether the particular invention you have in mind already has a patent.

    Tips & Warnings

    • If you are unsure of the correct terminology to search with, you should consider reducing the number of keywords in your search, which will yield more results. In the example that the USPTO provides, searching by patent title using the keywords “tennis” and either “racquet” or “racket” will yield less search results than searching with only the term “tennis.”
    • Filing a patent application for your invention requires the payment of a fee, which the USPTO will not return in the event your database search fails to uncover an existing patent that warrants a rejection of your application.

    About the Author

    Jeff Franco's professional writing career began in 2010. With expertise in federal taxation, law and accounting, he has published articles in various online publications. Franco holds a Master of Business Administration in accounting and a Master of Science in taxation from Fordham University. He also holds a Juris Doctor from Brooklyn Law School.

    Photo Credits

    • Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images