Whether you conduct the search yourself or hire someone else to do it, you
will have to study the patents and publications that are identified. If any of
the patents disclose your idea, you cannot be granted a patent. Likewise, if your
invention is described in any of the scientific literature, you cannot obtain
a patent on it.
It is possible that one or several existing patents or publications might describe
something similar to your discovery, but they may be different in some way. In
order for you to obtain a patent for your invention, those differences must be
unobvious to anyone with knowledge in the area related to your invention. For
example, ordinary differences, such as the substitution of one material for another,
changes in size, or other obvious modifications generally are not patentable.
But you can obtain a patent to cover an improvement or a new feature which makes
your invention different from the prior patents. The determination of unobviousness
and of patent ability of an invention is often a complex issue involving a combination
of legal principles and technical facts. Generally you should not attempt to make
these determinations on your own.
If you have not yet hired a registered patent practitioner, you should do so now.
Together you should discuss the important features of your invention and then
decide whether you have a fair chance of getting patent protection for your discovery.
If you decide to continue seeking a patent, the practitioner can help you with
step five, preparing and filing the patent application documents.