I have had a rash of independent inventors calling over the last few weeks, all with very sincere and heartfelt belief in their ideas. My first advice is always to do a business plan, but I also suggest that the independent inventor do as thorough a patent search as possible. The basic advice to a new inventor: learn everything you possibly can.
One of the best on line tutorials for patent searching is from the University of Texas. This guide gives a good overview of the patent classification system and walks the user through a typical classification search. This technique will return far more useful results than a typical keyword search.
The importance of this advice cannot be understated. Often, an independent inventor comes up with an invention that is outside of their day to day job, in an industry or field with which they may be only marginally familiar.
Performing a patent search in the field lets the inventor know what other ideas have been tried, but the existing patents are also a very rich source of background material on the underlying technologies in the field. Because each patent must enable someone to practice a particular invention, the patents in any field can be a very useful tutorial in its own right.
As a practicing design engineer, I would periodically do patent searches on my particular product, looking for new ideas as well as to understand competitor’s technologies. There is a wealth of advanced research and development information in other people’s patents, something that existing companies, for various reasons, refuse to tap.
Another benefit in doing your own patent search is becoming familiar with the format and jargon of patents. This will help the inventor tremendously when reviewing their own patent application.
Independent inventors are typically very optimistic, a quality that I enjoy tremendously. However, it is important that they look at their own invention with an open mind and a critical eye. When an idea cannot withstand tough criticism, it will probably not enjoy any success in the commercial arena.