How Do I Find Out if Something is Patented?

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Have you ever come up with a brilliant idea or invention, only to wonder if it’s already been patented? Patents play a crucial role in protecting intellectual property and ensuring that innovators are rewarded for their creations. In this article, we will explore the process of determining if something is patented, providing you with the knowledge and tools to navigate the world of patents effectively.

Understanding Patents

Before delving into the intricacies of patent searches, let’s start by understanding what patents are and their significance. Patents are legal rights granted to inventors, creators, or assignees, providing exclusive ownership and protection for their inventions or designs. They encourage innovation by granting inventors the right to prevent others from using, manufacturing, or selling their patented creations without permission.

There are three main types of patents: utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. Utility patents cover new and useful processes, machines, compositions of matter, or improvements thereof. Design patents protect the ornamental design of functional items. Plant patents, on the other hand, safeguard new varieties of plants that have been asexually reproduced.

Why is it Important to Determine if Something is Patented?

Discovering whether something is patented before proceeding with your own invention or creation is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, infringing on a patent can lead to legal consequences, including costly lawsuits and potential damages. By determining the existence of patents, you can avoid unintentional infringement and the associated complications.

Secondly, conducting a patent search can save you time, effort, and financial resources. It allows you to evaluate the viability of your idea and determine if there are similar patented inventions or designs already in existence. This knowledge can help you refine your concept, make necessary improvements, or even consider alternative paths for innovation.

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How to Determine if Something is Patented

Now that we understand the importance of determining patent status, let’s explore the various methods and resources available to conduct a patent search.

Conducting a Patent Search

Utilizing Online Patent Databases

One of the most accessible and efficient ways to search for patents is by utilizing online patent databases. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) provides a comprehensive and user-friendly database, allowing you to search for both granted patents and patent applications. Additionally, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the European Patent Office’s Espacenet database offer international patent search capabilities.

When using these databases, it’s essential to enter relevant keywords, such as product names, descriptions, or inventors’ names, to narrow down the search results. These databases often provide advanced search options to refine your queries further. It’s worth noting that patent databases may have slight variations in search functionalities, so exploring multiple resources can expand your search scope.

Hiring a Patent Attorney or Professional Patent Searcher

For complex or specialized patent searches, it may be beneficial to seek the assistance of a patent attorney or a professional patent searcher. These experts have in-depth knowledge of patent laws, search techniques, and access to proprietary databases that may not be available to the general public. They can help you navigate the complexities of patent searches and provide valuable insights into the patent landscape relevant to your invention or design.

While hiring a professional comes with associated costs, their expertise can save you time and potentially uncover patents that may have been missed in a self-conducted search. Additionally, their guidance can be invaluable when it comes to interpreting search results and determining the potential patentability of your idea.

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Exploring Non-Patent Literature Databases

In some cases, relevant information about inventions or designs may be available in non-patent literature. These resources can include academic papers, scientific journals, technical publications, or industry-specific databases. While patents provide strong protection, some ideas may be publicly disclosed through other channels without being patented. Exploring non-patent literature databases can help you uncover such information and gain a comprehensive understanding of existing innovations in your field.

Non-patent literature databases can be accessed through academic institutions, libraries, or specialized online platforms. They often require subscriptions or access fees, but they provide a wealth of knowledge beyond what patent databases offer. Incorporating non-patent literature searches into your patent search strategy can enhance the accuracy and depth of your findings.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a patent search?

A patent search is the process of investigating existing patents and patent applications to determine if an invention or design has already been patented. It involves searching through patent databases, non-patent literature, and consulting with professionals to assess the novelty and patentability of a concept.

Can I search for international patents?

Yes, you can search for international patents using databases such as WIPO or Espacenet. These platforms provide access to patent records from various countries, allowing you to broaden your search beyond national boundaries.

How long does it take for a patent to be granted?

The duration for a patent to be granted varies depending on several factors, including the patent office, the complexity of the invention, and the backlog of applications. On average, it can take several years for a patent to be granted, but this timeline can vary significantly.

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Can I patent something that has already been patented?

No, if an invention or design has already been patented, you cannot obtain a patent for the same invention or design. However, you may consider improving upon an existing patented invention or design and apply for a patent for your unique improvements.

What resources can I use for a patent search?

Online patent databases, such as the USPTO, WIPO, and Espacenet, are valuable resources for conducting patent searches. Additionally, hiring a patent attorney or professional patent searcher can provide specialized expertise and access to proprietary databases. Exploring non-patent literature databases can also supplement your search efforts.

Can I determine if something is patented by just searching online?

While online patent databases provide a wealth of information, determining patent status solely through online searches may not always provide a complete picture. Patents can be complex documents, and interpretation requires expertise. Consulting with a patent attorney or professional patent searcher can help ensure accuracy in evaluating patent status.


Determining if something is patented is a crucial step for inventors and creators. By conducting thorough patent searches, utilizing online patent databases, consulting professionals, and exploring non-patent literature, you can gain valuable insights into existing patents and make informed decisions for your own innovation journey. Remember, avoiding patent infringement and understanding the patent landscape are essential for protecting your intellectual property and fostering a culture of innovation. So, before embarking on your next big idea, take the time to find out if it’s already patented and pave the way for your own success.

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