Q: Patent lawyer needed. Want to see if the idea I have for a new style of electrical box is already patented
searching to see if a patent is already taken for a new style of electrical box for your home.
A: You may want to review this slide set on how to do some preliminary searching on your own. http://bit.ly/Patent_Searching You may find that your idea is patented or was at least published as a pending application.
As noted in the slide set, you will not be able to see all the applications that are on file but have not yet been published as an application or issued as a patent. So you can reduce your risk of filing an application for an idea already on file but you cannot reduce that risk to zero.
I hope that this helps.
Kevin E Flynn
A: Innovations in mature industries such as manufacturing of electrical boxes is a tough game. It could, of course, be very profitable, but it takes a lot of money to start putting your products on the shelf.
If you've invented a new style of an electrical box that you are going to manufacture and sell in the US, then you are quite correct that you need to make sure that you are not infringing on someone else's patent. What you are looking for is a Freedom To Operate opinion (FTO opinion). Depending on the complexity of the technical and legal issues, and the extent of the opinion, you are looking at several weeks of calendar time, and thousands of dollars for a professional searcher and thousands of dollars for a patent attorney to look through the results to issue the FTO opinion.
If you are going to be manufacturing it in China, or another low-cost country, then you are also going to need to do an FTO with respect to Chinese patents. Similarly, if you are going to be selling your product in Canada, Mexico, Europe, or other countries, you'll need to go through that exercise there as well.
The other issue that you need to worry about is whether your invention is patentable. It is not at all easy getting a good patent on something relatively simple as an electrical box. But you are correct that you need to worry about FTO first, before worrying about getting a patent on your invention.
None of this is going to be cheap; your company will need to come up with a sizable war chest to fund all of this.
However, as you are likely already aware of, the most important problem with bringing new products on the market is the compliance with the NFPA, NEC, OSHA, and many other regulations. If your new invention is complaint, then yeah, you can start worrying about patents; if it is not, then you need to first address the compliance issue before spending money on patent issues. I mean, I’d love to take your money to do the patent work, but it won’t make sense if you can’t satisfactorily resolve the regulatory issues.
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