You can’t call your idea an invention unless you can prove it is original. If it isn’t, its commercial potential is likely to be limited.
To establish the originality of an invention, you need to carry out searches to assess whether there are any patents or other forms of intellectual property – such as registered designs – that cover it. There may already be rights covering the invention itself, any components that form part of it, or any processes it uses.
You can start by looking through any relevant literature such as trade or specialist magazines and by using search engines and websites on the internet. If you can’t find anything that is similar to your invention, you may then consider searching through patent documents using online databases such as esp@cenet, a free patent search service developed by the European Patent Office (EPO). Search for patent documents on esp@cenet on the Intellectual Property Office website – Opens in a new window.
You can also search patents databases on the British Library website – Opens in a new window. The British Library also runs a free patents searching clinic for people carrying out initial searches on the internet and has extensive online patent resources. Advice and help on searching patents and designs, as well as trade marks, is also available throughout the UK at the network of Patent Information Libraries (PATLIBS). Find out more about the PATLIBS on the EPO website – Opens in a new window.
The Intellectual Property Office’s search and advisory service will carry out searches for patents and registered designs for a fee – find out about the search and advisory service on the Intellectual Property Office website – Opens in a new window. Depending on the subject matter, a full patent search typically costs between £750 and £1,200, although there is no upper limit. An infringement search costs from £1,500. Individual estimates can be provided. A design search starts at £65 with more complex searches averaging around £350.
You can get free advice from your local Business Link adviser. Find your local Business Link through our Contacts Directory. In Scotland, the Intellectual Assets Centre (IA Centre) and Innovators Counselling and Advisory Service for Scotland (ICASS) both provide specialist advice and support for inventors and innovative companies. You can find out about the advisers on the ICASS website – Opens in a new window or read about the advice available on the IA Centre website – Opens in a new window.
For expert advice it may be in your best interest to consult an IP specialist such as a patent attorney. You can find a patent attorney on the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) website – Opens in a new window.
See our guide on how to get patent protection for your business.
You must be aware that there are businesses that exploit inventors by offering a patents search service for thousands of pounds, when in reality they are only searching the databases that are freely available to the general public. It is always advisable to use a registered patent attorney or Business Link adviser. You can find more resources for inventors on the British Inventors Society website – Opens in a new window.