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Low-Cost Patent Search Options for Inventors on a Budget Inventors routinely believe they were the first to think of their great idea. They are not routinely correct.

By Kedma Ough Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Over the years, I have heard countless inventors pitch their product as the new/novel/one-of-a-kind/never-before-invented solution "everyone needs," but only if the inventor could afford to file for a patent, the procurement of which is seen as the single goal to guarantee success.

Obtaining a patent is not a bad idea but the fixation on the goal sometimes leads inventors to skip the critical precursor step of conducting a thorough patent search.

It is fundamental to first assess the likelihood of success before applying for a patent. Filing the application does not necessarily guarantee that the US Patents and Trademark Office (USPTO) will issue the patent. That wastes a lot of time, effort and money. For independent inventors, in particular, this effort can be particularly impactful. Anyone considering filing for a patent should do a comprehensive patent search to determine if the invention is truly "one-of-a-kind" and identify any challenges prior to submitting the application to the USPTO.

Related: How to Protect Your Business Idea Without a Patent

According to IP Watchdog, an intellectual property law blog, professional patent searchers and attorneys may charge upwards of $3,000 for a patent search and a "patentability opinion." Inventors working on a fixed budget should consider more affordable options. The USPTO offers an excellent web tutorial on how to conduct a preliminary U.S. patent search.

Another option is the patent search tool available from FreePatentsOnline IP Search. The site scores keywords against identified prior art. This free search option allows an inventor to quickly discover potentially related patents already filed. While it is always preferable to work through a professional patent researcher, this tool is a cost-effective first step.

For the inventor who doesn't feel comfortable performing their own patent search, a reputable patent search firm is a good option. Patent Search International provides affordable patent searches. For $250 this firm will research both US and foreign patents, and provide a patentability opinion conducted by a registered IP attorney. This is invaluable for inventors on a fixed budget in need of an independent, professional opinion on whether to move forward with a patent.

Related: Have an Invention? Here's How to Make It Into an Actual Product. (Infographic)

A few years ago my mother considered filing for a patent on a health product to solve a problem she often saw with her elderly patients. Working through Patent Search International, she discovered prior art filed on a very similar product. The IP attorney concluded that my mother should not pursue a patent. She was thoroughly disappointed by the results but, realizing the depth of research that was conducted, she agreed (reluctantly) with the independent expert (not her daughter).

Determining the feasibility of a patent does not have to be costly if you are willing to step back and conduct some initial and critical research before you invest yourself deeply into the patent application process. Happy researching!

Related: What Google Is Really Doing by Giving Away Patents

Kedma Ough

Entrepreneur, Inventor, Speaker; SBDC Director

Kedma Ough is a proven champion for small businesses. She is an inventor, author, speaker and a fifth-generation entrepreneur. Ough provides honest, straightforward education to innovators on feasibility,  funding and free resources. 

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