Applying for a patent on a new invention can be a very costly and time-consuming process, which makes it doubly frustrating to find out halfway through the process that an invention has already been invented. That’s why it’s important for inventors to perform a search for prior art. Prior art is a legal term applying to all information which has been made public up to a given date, which can have relevance to a current claim of originality. Searching for prior art can save inventors a lot of time and trouble in patenting inventions.
Patent applications must be accompanied by details on exactly how an invention works and what it does, including a drawing of the invention. When the patent application is received, the description and drawing are put through an extensive search to see if a previous patent exists. If the new invention is so similar to a previous patent that a normal person of ordinary skills would say it’s the same product, the patent application will be denied.
The exception to this would be if the person who filed the original patent is also applying for a new patent. This is called a double patent, and it’s done because patents only last so long before expiring.
To be effective, a search for prior art should include not only a United States search, but also a world search, a design search on all current, expired and published patents, patent applications and documents like utility models and scientific documents.
The United States uses a first-to-invent system, meaning that, if an inventor invents something and is going through the process of filing for a patent, the date the first item was built becomes the date of invention, and he or she would be considered the inventor even if someone else finishes a patent application first. All other countries use a first-to-file system, in which the first person to file a patent application would be the person who gets the patent. There have been recent talks to unify patent laws so that all inventors get the same rights regardless of which country the patent was filed in.
There are a number of complexities when searching for prior art: patent classes and sub-classes must be considered; there is a chance that a patent has been misclassified; secret pending application may exist and may take as long as eighteen months to surface; and the search can be further complicated by references obscured by the use of non-standard terms or misleading titles, abstracts and figures. It is recommended that new inventors seek professional counsel on this matter and seek out a company with the skills and resources to conduct a thorough search.