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Does Your Next Great Idea Already Exist?

Triumph Business Capital

November 23, 2015

What’s worth more — your money or your time? If you’re considering filing a patent on your newest invention, you could be spending a lot of both. However, conducting a thorough patent search as early as possible could save you time and money in the long run. We recommend contacting a patent attorney before you make a formal application; but professional services can be expensive. With a little time (and a lot less money), you can do a preliminary search on your own. Here’s how:

  1. Figure out what type of patent you need.

    This first step is fairly easy. There are three categories. Choose the one that best describes your invention:
    Utility: Any invention with a useful application. For example, a new type of wireless communication technology, building construction material, or waterproof fabric.
    Plant: This category describes any new plant species, such as a hybrid orchid or seedless tomato.
    Design: These types of patents are for decorative products, such as a Texas-shaped waffle maker.

  2. Research keywords that describe your invention.

    Here’s where things get tricky. In order to search for similar patents, you need to identify words or phrases that describe your invention. If you don’t select the right keywords, you could be falsely led to believe that your product is unique — when, in fact, someone else may have already thought of it. So, start brainstorming by considering the following:
    What is it?
    What does it do?
    What materials is it made of?
    How is it used?
    Who does it serve?
    Write down any keywords that come to mind.

  3. Find the applicable classes and sub classes.

    Visit United States Patent and Trademark, and you’ll see an alphabetical list. Use this list to search all of your keywords. For example, if you invented a type of lamp, click “L.” When you see your keyword, i.e. “lamp,” note the numbers next to the keyword, separated by a “/” symbol. The first number indicates the class. The second number is the subclass. Write these numbers down, then click each page to view additional additional relevant classes or subclasses. Note these, too. If you’re not sure what a subclass entails, click “Show Definition View” to learn more.

  4. Search Patents and Patent Applications.

    Go to to access the Patent Full Text and Application Full Text databases. This step will show you similar patents and patent applications. Review the results, and make sure other inventions don’t look too much like your idea.

  5. Next, check the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC).

    This newer system will eventually replace the United States Patent Classification (USPC). So, it can be helpful to identify the CPC classification number that corresponds to the USPC numbers that are on your list. To do this, visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office, choose USPC as your classification system, and click on “Statistical Mapping from USPC to CPC” in the “Select Content” field. Once you identify the relevant CPC numbers, you will need to go back to Step 4, and search patents under these numbers as well.

  6. Almost there — now, check with the Patent and Trademark Resource Center (PTRC) library.

    If you do discover a very similar invention, it’s unlikely that your patent will be granted. This can be disappointing — but not nearly as disappointing as it would be if you had paid an attorney to do this search for you. Assuming you did not find something similar, we recommend one last step before you call your lawyer: visit a Patent and Trademark Resource Center (PTRC) library for a final check. Most states have at least one PTRC. You can search for your nearest center online, make an appointment, and go from there.

You can find a more detailed version of the information in this article here. If you’re able to file a successful patent, we congratulate you — and we want to hear about it! Triumph Business Capital specializes in helping small businesses get the capital they need to fund big ideas. Our invoice factoring services can turn your unpaid invoices into cash, so you don’t have to waste time or money waiting to collect on your accounts. Let us know how we can help.