How To Know If Your Idea Is Already “Out There”?

Rich Goldstein

Founder & Principal Patent Attorney

Coming up with a new idea, product, or process can be an exciting moment! Once you develop your idea, your next step may be to protect it with a patent. However, you only qualify for a patent if your idea is original. Before pursuing a patent, you should look for any existing “prior art”. Prior art is any evidence of your invention already existing in some form or fashion. Prior art can include products that are already available on the market or patents on items that have not come to market for one reason or another..

To help you on your journey to discover prior art, you need to know how to conduct your search.

Begin Your Search

Your search can begin by using any method you would when searching for a product. You may find a similar product while browsing stores and marketplaces like Amazon. A broad search for a similar term on the internet is also an effective starting point.

Browsing stores is a great start to your search, however it will not complete your journey to finding prior art. If you have not found any evidence of existence on the open market or the internet, it doesn’t mean you are in the clear. Many products or services with patents never made it to market, so you will need to go deeper with a patent search. 

There’s ONE BIG misconception people have about patents… 

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“I haven’t seen my product idea on the market, so it must not have been created or patented before.” 

You would think… if it was a great idea, and someone else thought of it and patented it already, then it would certainly be on the market already!

The truth is, there are a lot more inventions patented than what you’ve seen on the market. For one reason or another a ton of patented products never make it to market. 


There are a number of reasons it could happen… from limited retailer support to adverse media attention or weak marketing. 

And in reality, some of these inventions are great ideas… and the inventor never followed through. 

Imagine that… Great inventions that never see the light of day because the inventor didn’t follow through? 

Why it happens is often less important for you than just to realize that just because you’ve never seen it, doesn’t mean it was not patented and largely forgotten on the marketplace. It is important to do research to find out the truth.

Patent Search

Your next step is a patent search. This process is not as easy as a simple word search in the patent database. Someone else’s patent for an invention that is similar to yours may be written using specific terminology, or using words that you would not expect. It is for this reason that a typical word search may not be enough to accurately determine the existence of prior art.

For example, if you have an idea for a can opener, you may go to an online patent database and search for “can” and “opener”. This will bring you a bunch of examples of can openers but may not show anything resembling your idea. However, someone may have submitted a patent application with a very similar idea to yours, but used different terminology. They may have named their patent a “container lid remover”. Your word search for “can opener’ would miss their patent, even though it would have been important for you to find.

Because of this possibility, there is a more effective way to search for prior art. For that, we use a classification search.

Classification Search

A classification search typically uses the direct resources of the US Patent Office. A classification search allows you to look for things based on their category of technology. The Patent Office has set up a system of more than 100,000 different classifications and subclassifications. When you find the right categories, you can locate all of the patents that fit this category – regardless of the terminology used when they wrote their patent application. This way, you do not need to find a match for your specific name or terminology. Instead, you can identify similar ideas and prior art based on category.

A classification search can also be useful for guiding your patent process. You may find prior art that shares some features of your idea but is missing others. You can emphasize those more unique aspects in your patent application to make the most of your idea. A classification search helps you know if your idea is patentable, what is the right approach toward patenting, and brings you closer to protecting your idea!

We always perform a classification search as part of our patent evaluation process. If you have done initial market research, and have questions about exactly what to do next, or if you would like our team of patent experts to do the research for you, a patent evaluation is the first place to start.

Your Patent Evaluation Process

Most patent attorneys skip this critical first step, which we feel is a tremendous flaw. Our process starts with this signature step because it ensures we do not waste your valuable time and resources on a patent you may in fact not need. It also ensures our research is aligned with your business goals.

The patent evaluation gives the Goldstein Team the opportunity to collect the right information from you about your idea. This informs our research so that we can give you the best advice about how and whether to proceed with a patent.

During this initial phase, we’ll also learn about your goals. We want to understand your reasons for seeking patent protection. Together, we’ll talk about how owning your intellectual property can help you achieve those goals.

We take the time to learn as much as possible about your idea and your goals. We’ll also guide you through the types and extent of patent protection that would be ideal for you.

We recognize that every client’s situation, motivations, and goals are unique. Our patent evaluation helps us understand the nuances of your situation so that together we can develop an appropriate strategy.

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While intellectual property protection might be difficult and confusing, we patiently listen to you, help you understand all your options, and then follow the best path to protect your valuable idea.

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