You should conduct a search for similar items as soon as possible to determine if you do, in fact, have a novel product. A search is a first step, or at least a second step-once you have written down your invention and had it witnessed in your product development process. Since nearly half of the patents filed in the U.S. Patent office never make it to market, there are a lot of patents unknown to the public. A search finds many of those undeveloped products. Focus On Patents, Inc., will conduct a search for $350.
Focus utilizes electronic and print media as well as local shopping for prior art searches. A copy of all pertinent documents is provided to the inventor along with a letter giving a brief overview of the reference and the differences, if any, between the invention and the reference. Discussion of the references by phone, fax or in person is included in the search fee. If the search does not reveal prior art barring you from filing, you can proceed with your development and patenting processes. The next step might then be filing a provisional application for patent to be discussed later. By about nine months after filing the provisional or the first public disclosure you should know if your invention will make money for you. You can then contact a patent professional for filing the utility application.