How to Tell If Your Invention Has Not Been Already Invented

By Sarah Clark
When the light bulb of your ingenuity shines, you may want to patent your idea.

Inventing something new is exciting and rewarding. If you want to ascertain that your invention is truly original and has not been made before, especially if you intend to market it, check the U.S. government's official list of patents and trademarks. Conducting a search of patent lists can take some effort and scrutiny. However, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office offers services and insights that can result in a successful search.

Visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's official website (see Resources). This site offers several resources for inventors and other people involved with patents, trademarks and copyrights. Select "Search" from the column titled "Patents" on the home page.

Select "Quick Search" under the heading "Searching Full Text Patents (From 1976)." Enter descriptive words about your invention into two search boxes. Any inventions with descriptions matching these keywords will then be listed with a link. Each link contains detailed information, including abstracts, dates, in-depth descriptions, images and related documents. You should be able to tell from this search whether an invention similar to yours has been patented since 1976.

Use a Patent and Trademark Depository Library (see Resources), if you think an invention like yours was created between 1790 and 1975. Each state has at least one of these libraries, and each contains materials to support searches of previous patents as well as aid in creating new ones. Visit or contact your nearest one to find out whether your invention has been made before.

About the Author

Sarah Clark has been writing since 1997, with work appearing in Northern Arizona University's "Student Life Organization Newsletter." She holds a B.A. in anthropology with a minor in art history from Northern Arizona University.