The Ultimate Guide To Prior Art For Inventors

The Ultimate Guide To Prior Art For Inventors PQAI

Inventors get many queries like: Can I get a patent on my invention? What is prior art? Can a YouTube video count as prior art? We have prepared this guide to prior art to help inventors succeed in their patent-seeking journey.

Can I Get A Patent On My Invention?

You came up with a breakthrough idea, a cot that can put babies to sleep using a particular vibration pattern and soothing music. Many parents can’t get enough sleep if their babies don’t sleep well at night. You have solved a problem that a lot of parents face. A lot of parents might be interested in buying such a cot. You see a possibility of a significant revenue stream. And because you feel your invention is novel, you see that it has the potential to be patented.

However, there is a possibility that someone else has already come up with a similar invention and received a patent on it. Now that patent is a “prior art” that can stop you from receiving a patent on your invention.

I hope this example gave you the basic idea of prior art. In this post, we have provided a detailed, visual, and very clear explanation of everything you need to know about it. We have also shared how you can conduct a “Zero Budget Prior Art Search.”

What is Prior Art?

Prior art is any evidence that an invention is already in existence or publicly available prior to the patent application filing date. The invention does not need to be commercially available or exist physically to be prior art. It suffices that the invention has been previously described or shown to be something that contains the use of technology like your invention.

So, if you file a patent without searching for prior art and the patent examiner finds that your invention is not novel (new), you receive ‘§102 type rejection’: “Non-novel or not new.”

21.28% of patent applications got rejected over a period of ~4 years from 2017 to September 2020 because they did not meet the ‘novelty’ criterion.”

There is one more common reason for rejection: ‘§103 type rejection’: “Obvious improvement over the prior art.”

46.95% of patent applications got rejected over a period of ~4 years from 2017 to September 2020 because they did not meet the ‘non-obviousness’ criterion.”

Note: Stats are based on the rejections (Final +Non Final) given by the Patent Examiners for the US applications from 2017 to September 2020

The §102 and §103 constitute 68.23% of the total rejections. This indicates that either an examiner found a prior art questioning the novelty of an invention disclosed or an examiner combined two or more references to prove that an invention disclosed is obvious.

Inventors must invest in a thorough search of past and present products and patents before they conclude on the novelty and non – obviousness of their invention.

Does this count As Prior Art?

A similar invention is available in a video on Youtube. Does this mean we cannot obtain a patent for that invention?

It certainly can, depending on the similarity with your invention.

Credits: r/patents

Inventors often have queries about what counts as prior art and if a piece of certain public information can be the reason for the rejection of their patent application. Such disclosures can act as a prior art depending upon the level of similarity with your invention.

Any invention publicly disclosed or made publicly available in any language or any part of the world may be considered prior art. 

It can be a:

  • a product that was available for sale,  
  • an invention used commercially, 
  • printed or electronic forms of articles, 
  • publications, texts, journals, 
  • presentation at a public event, 
  • or any form of public use of the invention.

An existing product or patent is the most obvious form of prior art. Unfortunately, inventors often assume that because they cannot find a current commercial product containing their invention, their invention must be novel. 

This assumption is far from reality. Inventions often never become products, yet there may be public records showing their existence. That record counts as prior art.

Does This Not Count As A Prior Art?

Generally, publicly available information after your patent application’s ‘effective’ filing date (or priority date) would not qualify as prior art.

Also, patent applications filed after yours generally would not qualify as prior art.

#sidenote: A trade secret does not count as prior art.

Also, patent applications that are filed after yours generally would not qualify as prior art.

#sidenote: A trade secret does not count as a prior art.

What Is Prior Art Under AIA:  §102, §103?

The America Invents Act (AIA) is a complex bill that includes a significant change to U.S. patent law. The AIA relates fundamentally to whether or not an invention can be classified as prior art, with arguably the most impactful change being the shift from a “first to invent” system to a “first inventor to file” system on March 16, 2013.

Section 102: First to Invent Vs. First Inventor to File

Pre-AIA Sections 102(a) and 102(e): Patents were granted using the “first to invent” system. The section provides that an inventor is not entitled to a patent if the claimed invention was already patented, described in a patent or is in public use by another inventor before the claimed invention.

For example, under old U.S. patent law, an inventor could rely on the earliest documented date of the invention and obtain priority to another inventor with an earlier-filed application.

AIA Section 102(a): Prevents a patent if the claimed invention was described in a patent or patent application filed before the effective filing date of the invention.

For example, under the AIA, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will award a patent to an inventor with the earliest effective filing date. The earliest effective filing date is the original date that the application was filed.

Section 103: Obviousness

Pre-AIA Section 103: Prevents patenting of an invention if it would have been evident at the time the claimed invention was made.

AIA Section 103: A patent may not be obtained if the invention had been obvious before the effective filing date of the claimed invention.

Example: Prior-art reference (1) teaches encryption. Prior-art reference (2) teaches how to send an email. Then sending an encrypted email would not be novel. It would be ‘obvious’ because there is a motivation to send emails in a form that would allow them to be read only by the intended recipient. 

How To Conduct A Prior Art Search?

  • telling your innovative idea to a friend,
  • and asking the friend if he has heard or seen something like it.
  • assuming that the friend knows it all if he says he has not heard of it;
  • your invention is new, and there is a possibility of getting a patent over it.

Because you want to determine if your invention is new or novel enough to get a patent on it.

However, that’s the ideal scenario and far from reality.

Free Prior Art Search Resources

It can be pretty challenging for an inventor who is (often) not skilled to conduct a prior art search. Although many free resources for patent or prior art searching are available, most do not understand natural language queries. To name a few:

Besides, companies often use deceptive language in patents to hide their I.P. activity from competitors. That makes it further challenging to find the relevant prior art.

Inventor’s Plea

Look at the snapshot below; we have picked this from Reddit (r/patents). Clearly, the inventor tried to look for prior art in USPTO and Google patents but faced difficulty with language and search navigation.

Credits: r/patents

Challenges To Prior Art Search 

The Right Keywords (Synonyms)

“Bendable,” “Foldable,” and “Flexible” are some synonyms that can be used to refer to the same aspect of an invention. Of course, different patent drafters would have used other terms. However, you don’t want to miss out on any relevant results; hence, it would be necessary to take care of synonyms while searching.

The Complex Search Queries

The patent databases are a vast set of information. Thousands of results are received for a single query. Complex search queries are the only way to narrow down the results. These queries are nothing but keywords arranged with a specific logic (Boolean (AND/OR) search string) to get relevant prior art results. 

The Patent Language

The patents are usually drafted in precise language, which is difficult for a person with a non-IP background to comprehend. For example, a computer might be written as “an information exchange system” to cover other similar devices like phones, tablets, etc. 

How Much Does It Cost To Get A Prior Art Search Done?

Professional Search Fees

According to UpCounsel if you hire a professional to conduct an in-depth prior art search, it shall cost you anything between $1000 to $3000 based on the complexity of the invention.  

  • $1,000 to $1,250 for simple inventions
  • $1,250 to $1,500 for slightly complex inventions
  • $1,500 to $2,000 for moderately or relatively complex inventions
  • $2,000 to $3,000 for highly complex inventions or software

Government Search Fees

The USPTO fee for conducting a patent search or prior art search varies according to the entity size. The fee is less for small and micro entities, so it’s less for individual inventors like yourself. ($40 to $700)

The snapshot presented below is from USPTO’s website, which shares complete details of patent-related fees.

Depending on the type of patent, the fee is different: Utility, Design, or Plant.

Here are quick definitions for different patents based on which you can decide which category your invention falls.

Utility Patent

It protects a useful machine’s process, manufacture, and composition of matter.

Design Patent

It protects the product’s shape, appearance, patterns, design, layout, or looks.

Plant Patent

It protects a new and unique plant’s key characteristics from being copied, sold, or used by others.

How To Conduct A Prior Art Search Yourself With Zero Budget?

You need money or skill to conduct a comprehensive prior art search. With money, you can hire an I.P. research firm to perform your prior art search. With skill, you can use other prior art search engines that require you to create sophisticated keyword search strings and go through hundreds of documents to find relevant prior art.

However, if you want to determine the novelty aspect of your invention, you neither need money nor skill.

Yes, you read it right!

We would say, don’t go by our words. Try it out yourself!

A quick search on PQAI (An Initiative by AT&T ) is enough for you to determine the novelty of your invention.

Prior Art Search Using PQAI

Here is how you can conduct the search:

  1. Go to
  2. You shall see a search query box as shown below.
PQAI Prior Art Search Tool Snapshot

3. Let’s try a sample query. How about – “A machine learning based system to sort out the waste based on the images captured by the camera in the past”?

PQAI Prior Art Search Tool Snapshot

Now, let’s take a look at the snapshot presented above. We found a prior art similar to the invention query we entered.

4. The best part is each result shows the claim mapping. That means the relevant section in the prior art document matches the invention query. This makes it super easy for the researcher to look for matching elements between the invention and the result.

5. The following options accompany each result:

  • Save – Like you bookmark the web pages, you can save the results. Saved results are available for your future reference.
Saved Results Section - PQAI Prior Art Search Tool Snapshot
  • Find Similar – This option helps in further refining the search results. As the name suggests, you get to see ten more similar results matching that selected result.
  • View Document – With this option, you can view the selected result document in a new tab. Example: If it’s a U.S. patent, you will be directed to the Google patents link for the selected patent.
  • Feedback – With a thumbs up or thumbs down, you can give feedback on the relevancy of the result.

6. If this has given you a decent idea of how you can use PQAI to conduct a prior art search. Go ahead and give it a try!

Once you establish the novelty of your invention, the next step is to fill out the invention disclosure form. An up-to-date invention disclosure form shall help you prepare for a meeting with a patent attorney.

Let’s Sum It Up

You don’t want USPTO to reject your patent application because someone else has already patented an invention like yours. To ensure the same, it’s necessary to find out if your invention is new before filing a patent. The easiest and most cost-effective way is using PQAI Prior Art Search Engine.

Besides determining the novelty of your invention, you need to check your invention for patentability. First, you must ensure that your invention is a patentable subject matter.

Conducting a prior art search benefits you in many other ways than just novelty determination. To name a few:

  1. Conducting a prior art search early in the process shall help you save resources that would have been otherwise used in pursuing it for patenting. It won’t make financial sense if someone else has already patented it.
  2. When you read the patents on inventions like yours, you will be better positioned to refine your idea. And refine it in a manner that it’s new and non-obvious.

If you have any queries about prior art searches using PQAI, feel free to write to us “[email protected]”.


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