Before Patenting, Research your Invention

Bullet through Lightbulb

Killing the idea

(edited and reprinted with permission from

This is a story of me being the bad guy… the bad engineering dude. I had to be the bearer of some crappy news to a client.

A dude contacted me a while back with an idea he wanted to patent, prototype, and eventually manufacture. For shits-n-grins let’s call this dude Jim. JIM was plenty excited about his idea. Jim was so excited in fact, that he actually experienced dreams at night of his idea’s success. Jim had already paid a lawyer to write and file a provisional application. Jim came to me to produce good technical drawings needed for the non-provisional application his lawyer was currently preparing.

Jim’s idea was good. It was seemingly novel and useful in a market full of money right now; it was potentially very lucrative. Out of curiosity more so than due diligence, I typed his idea into The Google. Well what do you know: this light bulb had been lit before. I found one patent for a similar invention from 1855, and I found another nearly identical invention patented in 1993: still active.

This information took me less than 2 minutes to find.

I felt bad for Jim. He had put weeks of effort and I don’t know how much money into this idea only for me to tell him “Simpson’s did it”. His bubble- popped. His lightbulb- shot. The money Jim spent with the patent lawyer had been wasted; his invention was not patentable. This could have been prevented with a little internet searching, or a more honest lawyer (HA!).

uspto home

USPTO homepage

If you have a great idea and want to develop it, go for it: your idea could very well make you a rich dude. But before you spend the time and money on a patent, or even making a prototype, just take an hour of your time and make sure your idea is as unique as you think it is. There are plenty of resources to help your search. Here are a few:

You can also pay for a lawyer or patent search service to find conflicting prior art. But before spending any money, just sit down with the internet for an hour: it could save you a great deal of time and money. Don’t repeat Jim’s mistake.

Happy inventing, and good luck with your idea!

About Ed

This Engineering Dude is a contract Mechanical Engineer with 12 years experience in comprehensive electro-mechancial product design. His consumer and OEM products have been sold worldwide in the laboratory, medical, clinical, and research markets. He has also designed orthopedic rehabilitation hardware, firearms, pneumatic weapons, mountain bikes, and even furniture.
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