How do I find out if someone else invented my concept first? Is there a way to search for my concept?

Unlike writing a patent, you can, and should, search for your concept yourself!! When searching, I tell entrepreneurs to focus on novelty (a “novelty search”) and ignore non-obviousness. Indeed, there are plenty of rich databases to search for your invention. You can start by searching Google to get a high-level view, and then follow up with any of a variety of different patent search sites. Note that although most of the common search databases search patents, just view the patents as if they were papers describing their technologies.

A few good databases are:

You also can hire firms that specialize in searching patents (typical cost for novelty search is $450-$700). Law firms can search too, but the cost is typically higher than that of a search firm.

People in the patent world refer to information used to determine if your invention is novel and non-obvious as “prior art.” You can think of prior art as the storehouse of publicly available human knowledge before you file your patent application. As such, prior art includes not just prior patents, but papers, web sites, pictures, presentations, and products, among other things.


Steven Saunders is an Intellectual Property Attorney at the Boston-based law firm, Nutter. Steven can be reached at

For more information about Steven, See Steven’s Martin Trust Center Biography at:


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