Before you apply for a patent, you should carry out a comprehensive search on existing patent information. This is to help you determine if your invention:
- is novel and inventive ('prior-art' or novelty search)
- is eligible for patent protection (patentability search)
- infringes on someone else's patent (clearance or freedom to operate search)
See what is a patent.
A patent holder has the right to take legal action against you if you make, use, import or sell a product employing their invention without permission.
Carrying out a patent search
You can search for patent information in specialist or trade magazines or any other relevant literature. You can also use search engines and websites to look for products or ideas that are similar to your invention.
If you cannot find anything that resembles your idea, you may then consider searching through patent documents using online databases.
UK patent search
You can search for patents in the UK using the Intellectual Property Office's (IPO):
- patent information and document service - for registered patents
- patents publication enquiry services - for patent applications
IPO also maintains separate lists for:
To find new UK patent applications and changes to the patent register, check the IPO's patents journal.
European patent search
If you need to search for patents more widely, you can search using Espacenet, a free patent search service developed by the European Patent Office (EPO). It provides access to a database covering the Intellectual Property Office, over 20 European patent offices, as well as the EPO and World Intellectual Property Office.
Worldwide patent search
To search for patents internationally, you should use the World Intellectual Property Organizations' Patentscope service.
If you find that relevant patents or designs exist in the markets you wish to operate it, it is worth seeking legal advice on how best to deal with any potential infringement or licensing issues. It may help to seek advice from a patent attorney.
Penalties for infringement
Infringing someone's patent can be very expensive. If a successful claim is made against you, you can be forced to stop the infringement and pay considerable costs and damages. You will not be able to claim that you weren't aware of the patent as a defence against an infringement claim. See more on patent infringement.
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