If you have a great idea or new invention and want to patent it, do your homework first. Make sure somebody hasn't already beaten you to it.
Conduct a Self-Search
Determine what type of patent you will be seeking. A utility patent covers the functional aspects of an invention, while a design patent only covers the appearance of an invention.
Access an online patent database such as the ones provided by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) and IBM. Determine the most relevant classes and subclasses for your invention.
Read the class descriptions in the database to see which are relevant to your idea.
Review all patents issued within those classes.
Perform comprehensive keyword searches for your potential invention. Leave no stone unturned.
Assemble your search results into a report that can be readily referenced.
Hire Professional Services
Know your options: a patent agent or attorney or a lay searcher. A patent agent is an individual with some technical training who is licensed by the U.S. PTO to prepare and prosecute patent applications. A patent attorney is licensed by the PTO to prepare patent applications. To find a patent searcher, look in the yellow pages under "Patent Searchers."
Also see Tips below.
Utilize your searcher's services efficiently. Do this by providing the searcher with a clear and complete description of your invention together with easily understandable drawings. The more thorough you are, the better.
Analyze your searcher's response thoroughly.