Would you go into business without a business plan? Don't file a patent application until you have had a comprehensive patent search performed.
A patent search is a critical step to take before filing a patent application. Just as you need to do due diligence before taking on any business venture, you need to do your patent due diligence before filing a patent application. Although there is an additional expense associated with have a patent search performed, it can potentially save you money down the road.
There are two main benefits to gain from having a patent search performed:
1) Gain confidence in the patentability of your invention
"Does my invention already exist? Is it patentable?" These are questions every inventor asks at some point. Before you proceed with filing a patent application, you will want to know what the chances of patentability are. If the chances are poor, why waste time and money pursuing a patent? A patent search will show you inventions which are similar to yours and the associated patent search report will give you a level of confidence as to whether or not your invention can be patented. It's not as simple as whether or not your invention exists. What if an existing invention is not the same as yours, but is similar? What if your invention combines existing inventions together or improves on an existing invention? How different does your invention need to be in order to be eligible for a patent? These questions can be answered with a patent search along with professional opinions regarding patentability. In order for your invention be patented, it must meet the patenting criteria of being novel, non-obvious, and useful.
2) Improve the chances of patent success by working around existing inventions
Even if you believe that your invention does not already exist, it is important to see inventions that are similar. You need to know who your "competitors" are. The patent search will show you inventions which are similar to yours. By seeing similar inventions, you have an opportunity to modify your own invention to be more unique compared to what already exists. If you see an invention with a similar component, modify your own now while you still can. By making your invention as unique as possible and then filing the patent application, you increase your chances of eventual patent success.
It is important to remember that a patent search should include not only US patent databases but also international patent databases as well. Your patent application could be rejected by the US Patent Office if a similar invention was filed anywhere in the world. Many popular internet patent databases such as the US Patent Office Website and Google Patents only search US patents and will only give you a partial picture of patentability.
Request a comprehensive patent search before you proceed to file any patent application.