If you're serious about your patent search, you may not want to rely on the results from a free search engine, which are limited and might be more likely to result in legal action against you. A professional patent searcher, however, can help you keep that risk to a minimum. These professionals go beyond software-driven algorithms, applying their personal expertise to the search. Professional patent searches take about five business days, starting from the time they've received all the information they need from you for the search.
The cost of this professional service depends on what you're looking for and who's providing the service. For example, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office charges for searches by the type of patent, while Patents.com prices its services by the type of search you need. Depending on your search requirements, your costs could range from $100 to nearly $2,000 -- or higher.
Besides the fees for the search services, there may be an additional cost to request printed copies of the patent documents identified by the search [source: USPTO, "Fee"]. Also, if you're in a business that needs to make frequent searches of patent data, such as an R & D department developing products for a corporation, you might consider subscribing to sophisticated patent-searching tools and services rather than paying a separate fee for each new search [source: Delphion].
Even if you don't conduct a patent search of your own, the USPTO will put your application through a limited search when they're evaluating it. They may approve your application and grant your patent after the examination. However, this evaluation process isn't as extensive as professional patent search services, leaving you vulnerable to an infringement lawsuit if another patent-holder notices a conflict. The cost of doing a professional search first may be worth it to avoid such lawsuits.
When professional search results indicate that your idea or gadget is novel, don't let your search go to waste. File your own patent application right away. You might even prepare your application in advance so that it's ready to submit as soon as you get the results. The USPTO receives more than a thousand applications each day, so don't let someone else patent your invention before you do.