Is It A Good Idea

First, before you even find out if your idea isn’t taken, you’ve got to make sure that it’s a good idea.  Basically start by asking friends and family what they think of your idea.  Make sure you canvass a diverse group of people to get as many perspectives as possible.  A lot of times this will require you to make several adjustments and refinements while the idea is still extremely malleable.

Is It Obvious

Once you’ve canvassed a large diverse group of close confidants, you should expand out and do larger scale market research.  Not only will this help identify what it is that people are looking for, but it’ll also allow lots of people to point you in the right directions.  If anyone knows of a product, service, or company that does something similar they’ll be happy to bring it up here.  This is by far the cheapest and easiest way to leverage other people’s perspectives to help you out before making any large scale investments.  Allot of times you can do this by hitting on the functions of the product, but not the specifics.  This will keep your intellectual property safe and won’t count as a patent destroying “public disclosure”.

Do You Have Money

After you’ve clarified in your mind exactly what it is that you want to offer and you haven’t heard of anything similar via market research, it’s time to dig in.  Now I want to be very explicit here, I AM NOT A LAWYER.  Do not take legal advice from me or anyone that isn’t a certified patent attorney, because it’s a very complicated and nuanced legal field.  Which is why paying an attorney to do a discovery here is your best option.  It’s also the most expensive and probably unrealistic option for startups.

Are You Bootstrapping

If you don’t have $30k that your willing to throw away in legal fees there are probably some other good options for you.  Google has a great patent database as well as the government’s very own online database.  Search through them!  It takes awhile to figure out how to work them, which I won’t get into because I’m not an expert either, but they can definitely point you in the right direction.

I’ve found out what my competition’s patents were because they were registered under their businesses’ name, which is searchable.  That was the easiest way that I’ve found, but it doesn’t seem to be the most robust.  The most robust functionality, it seems to me, to be knowing all the different classifications for which inventions can fall under.  Searching by their international, as well as US, related patent classifications can lead to more targeted search results.

Looking For A Quick Fix

Fortunately, America is unique in that we have a non-provisional patent process which is great for innovation.  This non-provisional patent application gives you patent coverage for one year while you can go out and test it’s commercial appeal without destroying any claim to protection because of public disclosure.  It’s a super cheap way to print “patent pending” on your product without going through the insanely expensive process of securing your full blown provisional patent.

Non-Patent Intellectual Property

Copyright and Trademark searches are much more straight forward.  You can literally just type in what you’re looking for and it’ll bring it up.  The only thing you really need to consider here is the applicability of other’s IP toward what your trying to do.  If they’re in completely different fields, then their IP may or may not be infringed by your claim.  Again, this is a complicated area of law and you should consult with qualified and certified legal counsel before proceeding.

Conclusion

Either way, no matter what exactly your looking for, ownership of IP is only as useful as your business execution.  You’ve got to go out and sell it!  You’ve got to turn it into a business.  So go pound the pavement, go out and hustle, and make your IP work for you.


Also published on Medium.