How to Find Out If Something Has Been Patented

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

How to Find Out If Something Has Been Patented

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

To find out if an invention has already been patented, you can search the United States Patent and Trademark Office's (USPTO) patent database. The USPTO is the federal agency responsible for reviewing patent applications and determining whether an invention is unique enough to issue a one.

Hand clicking a graphic of the search icon next to the work "Patents"

A patent is essentially a government authority or license that confers a right or title for a set period of time, especially the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention.

The purpose of a patent is to incentivize creativity and protect an inventor's rights when they come up with something unique. Before you submit a patent application, it's advisable to run a patent search through the USPTO database.

1. Find the U.S. Patent Office's website.

To begin your search, navigate to the USPTO's website. On the left side of the page, click on the header titled "Patents." Underneath the "Application Process" column, click on the link that says "Search for Patents." This is the USPTO patent database.

2. Search the patent database.

On this page, you'll find helpful resources that will help prepare you for your search, such as the Seven Step Strategy, which outlines a suggested procedure for patent searching.

3. Select the parameters of your search.

The advanced function allows you to use a number of different parameters to base your search, such as title, issue date, inventor name, and description/specification. If you click on any one of the 31 links in the "Field Name" column, it directs you to specific instructions on how to use each of the parameters.

4. Input your search criteria.

Once you've selected your search parameters, the next step is to input your search criteria in the query box. The database requires that you enter the parameter and keywords in a specific format, so be sure to read the instructions before you begin your search. There are also examples of the correct format in which you must enter your search query for each specific code. If entered correctly, the search should generate relevant results.

5. Select the time period.

The advanced search gives you the option of selecting the time period in which you want to search. The default option is 1976 to present. However, the database also includes patents that go as far back as 1790. Pre-1976 patents are only searchable by issue date, patent number, and current classification. The database includes complete information only for patents beginning in 1976.

6. Scan your search results.

Click on the relevant search results to determine if a patent already exists. The results should be presented in list format, so you must click on each result to review the patent information. Each result provides specific information on the patent, such as background information, the function of the invention, and a description of the drawing that can help you determine whether the particular invention you have in mind is already patented.

Depending on the thoroughness of your search, if no search results come up you can be fairly confident that your invention has not yet been patented. However, you can also enlist the help of a professional if you want to be sure.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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