Why Do a Prior-Art Search?

Rear view of man sitting an office chair, with hands behind head, facing a busy blackboard.

To find out whether our invention is novel, or not already invented, we do what’s called a prior-art search.

“Prior art” is any previous public disclosure of an invention just like yours. This includes anything published or disclosed anywhere in the world. Prior art is any evidence that your invention is already known.

The USPTO advises inventors to do a prior-art search before they consider applying for a patent. It’s not required, but highly recommended. Why? So that you don’t waste time and money developing something that’s already patented, or already in the public domain. Doing a prior-art search has another, hidden benefit: it reveals useful information about the state of the art. Inventors can learn a great deal during a patent search that will help them make product-development decisions and save money.

A prior-art search includes searching for both products and patents. Start with a simple web search for products (or methods, or compositions of matter) like yours. For products, an easy place to start is on Amazon.com. After that, try a general search for anything that’s been published in the realm of your invention.

If your invention is not something you’d see for sale on Amazon, like a new app that you’re developing, start with perhaps a search on the App Store on your phone.

If your invention is in a scientific field, you might choose Google Scholar or a peer-reviewed journal in your field of invention.

Patent-searching is a learned skill. When you hire a patent agent to prosecute your patent, they’ll suggest a prior-art search to give you an honest appraisal of whether your invention is patentable. When it’s done right, a prior-art search takes time and costs money. If you can’t afford to have a professional perform a prior-art search for you, watch our video on patent-searching, and read the USPTO’s patent-search page. (Note that the USPTO has a rolled out a new search tool called Patent Public Search.)

Keeley DeAngelo uses four resources in our patent-searching: the USPTO’s Patent Public Search, Google Patents, Espacenet, and the World Wide Web.

The USPTO site is great for helping narrow the search landscape and contextualize an invention. Google Patents is good for searching both nationally and internationally. Espacenet is the European Patent Office’s patent database, covering the entire world, with over 140 million patent documents.

Remember, any existing disclosure is considered prior art, not just patents and patent applications.

For a video on determining patentability and learning the basics of patent-searching please see “How Do I Know It’s Patentable?” on our youtube page.


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