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The first step in any patent process is the creation of an idea or invention that you need to patent. The second step is performing a search to see if a patent already exists for your idea or invention. Obviously, if someone has already patented the idea, you can’t patent it or profit off it — and it will be time to go back to the drawing board.

As you can imagine, you should perform your patent search as early as possible. You can go to a patent lawyer to help you with your search — and it’s recommended in most cases because a patent lawyer will be as thorough as is humanly possible. However, you can perform a rudimentary patent search yourself for free.

Imagine you’ve got your million-dollar invention, and you’ve scribbled out the plans on a piece of paper. Or, maybe you’ve drawn out diagrams and written detailed descriptions of the idea on your computer. Either way, the Internet can assist you in determining whether a roadblock — i.e., a previously-registered patent — could present a problem for your future efforts to make money from your idea.

The U.S. Patent Office has a website that you can visit to conduct a patentability search for previously created patents that relate to your idea. The website allows you to look for similar inventions, and you can also search for an exact match to your invention.

It’s important to be as thorough as possible in your patent search to getting into a legal jam and wasting a lot of money on an already-patented invention. As such, if you have what could be a million-dollar idea, it may be worth the small investment of working with a professional to double-check the uniqueness and originality of your idea.

Source: Entrepreneur, “How to Search for Existing Patents,” Jeffrey Steinberger, accessed Nov. 29, 2017