California businesses and inventors need to protect their ideas from being stolen and used by others. One way of doing this is by getting an invention patented. Although this can be a sometimes confusing and long process, a patent protects a new invention from being used by others for a certain amount of time.
For an invention to be eligible for protection, it actually needs to be a new idea. In order to determine if there has already been a patent issued for a similar idea, a patent search is conducted. As Lifehacker explains, this can also be called a "prior art search," which is the method of sifting through all of the previous patents to ensure that an idea has not been publicly disclosed. In order to receive a patent, an invention has to be considered "new and non-obvious." Conducting a thorough search will prevent an inventor from wasting time and money on a patent application for an invention that cannot be patented because it already exists. Some patents date back hundreds or years, which can make the search process more difficult. The terminology in an application may be highly technical or extremely out of date.
When doing a patent search, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recommends conducting a search of foreign patents as well. While it is possible to conduct a search on one's own, and there are many step-by-step tutorials online, for those who have not conducted a search before, the USPTO suggests hiring an experienced lawyer or patent agent who is registered and licensed to practice before the USPTO.