Do your research. Understand what patent law is and how it applies to your idea. A light bulb may have gone on in your head, but an abstract idea cannot be registered with the patent office.
Search for existing patents with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This can be done by searching through its online database (uspto.gov), on site at the main patent office in Alexandria, Virginia, or at your local Patent and Trademark Depository Library, which is available in every state.
Patent searches can be excruciatingly difficult. For that reason, private companies, such as Google, have put together online databases that make searching for patents easier.
Hire a lawyer or agent who specializes in patent law if you are serious about following through with the patent application. A lawyer or agent will pull together all patents related to your own invention, explain the intricacies of the law, and tell you exactly what you will need for your application. Although hiring a specialist is expensive, it can save time and avoid confusion.
Take the time to be sure of what you have. Do not apply for a patent for something that is only a partial idea. Put together detailed notes, design plans, and a fully functioning prototype of the invention. Test that the invention does what you intend it to do and that there are no glitches.
File a provisional application to establish an early filing date. This step is not required but gives the inventor a patent-pending status at the USPTO and establishes a filing date while you are pulling together material for a non-provisional application.