How Can I Tell If My Invention Is Already Out There?

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An idea for a new invention can fall flat when you see a variation of your invention on an infomercial. If you have yet to see your product idea already boxed in a storefront display, it is possible that your idea has not yet been patented. A patent affords the inventor property rights to the idea and makes it possible to exclude others from creating, selling or importing your invention or a similar product in the United States.

Step 1

Visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office web site. Beneath the "Patents" section, click the "Search" link.

Step 2

Click "Advanced Search" beneath the "USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database (PatFT)" header on the "Search for Patents" page. Although you can use other "Search" features on the "Search for Patents" page, this option allows you to view patent images dating from 1790 and full text from patents issued from 1976.

Step 3

Consider what terms may be relevant to your invention idea. Would your invention be used in sports, factories or schools? Generate a list of keywords that are relevant to your invention.

Step 4

Type the keywords you generated in Step 3 into the "Query" field. Examples might include "baseball glove" or "tennis ball." Phrases that include multiple words must appear in quotations. All patents that include these phrases in their text will appear in your search results.

Step 5

Click on the drop-down menu under "Select Years" and select which gallery of patents you would like to view. Click "Search." Click on links beneath "Title" to view the patent information. If you do not see an idea similar to yours, file a patent application.


  • Determine if your idea is one that can be afforded product rights under patent law. There are three types of patents. A "design patent" possesses ornamental characteristics. A design patent affords you property rights for the way your idea looks. A plant patent is granted to new asexually produced plants. The utility patent can be applied to new processes, machines or manufactured articles.
  • The utility patent is most commonly sought by inventors. If your idea is a method of distinguishing a good, idea or service from another, it can be trademarked. Musical, written or other creative works are protected under copyright law.


About the Author

Candice Coleman worked in the public school system as a middle school and high school substitute teacher. In addition to teaching, she is also a tutor for high school and college students.