"The best way to predict the future is to invent it" - Alan Kay
The challenge, of course, is knowing whether an invention represents the future, or instead, re-creates that which has been done before. More than eight million ideas have been patented in the United States. The sheer quantity of patents far exceeds the memory capacity of an individual or company. If your idea has already been patented by someone else, learning this as early as possible in the development process can save you substantial time and money. Under current laws, the impact of ignorance of a patent owned by another is severe. Ignorance can lead to court injunctions preventing the infringer from further production, and can ultimately result in awards of three times the infringer's profits and reasonable attorney's fees. Thus, ignorance of patents can quickly or ultimately result in a product or service that cannot be sold, and the cost of this ignorance has on past occasions amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars. Clearly, it is important to be aware of relevant patents owned by others.
Even if a patent search confirms that your idea is new and patentable, the patent search will help to identify which features you will own once the patent is granted, and also help to identify and evaluate competitive alternatives. This allows you to present your invention to others with the emphasis on your new and unique features, while pointing out the limitations of older technologies. The search results are also vital to the patent agent or attorney to get the best patent protection possible.
Patents contain information used by businesses each day to determine the investment of millions of dollars. From a larger corporate perspective, the information derived from a search will provide managers and employees with a better sense of how to work together to further develop and promote an invention, and thereby grow the business in the marketplace.