Got the next big idea floating around in your head but want to see if someone else has already come up with it? Digging through the mountain of patents on file at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Web site can be a bit daunting. To help in that search is Patents.com, which has an index of more than 450 million patents in 15 different languages. All of this is combined with an online marketplace where these patents can be bought and sold.
Like Google's patent search offering, Patents.com offers some great exploration, which is where I found the most value. The front page shows off some of the most recently approved and submitted patents, but the star of the show is the search tool, which goes from basic to "expert" mode with just one click. The expert mode gives you a whole new bag of search tricks like word proximity, a cheat sheet of commonly used patent jargon, as well as a "fuzzy" search that will look for alternate or misspelled words in patent titles or the actual copy.
One of its key improvements over the standard U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Web site is the image viewer, which I found far easier to use. It's essentially a PDF viewer, but it's stuck right on the page instead of opening in a new window. Also, unlike the U.S. patent office site, it does not require reloading the page each time you want to see another image. Users of Google's patent search will feel right at home.
As for the actual sale of ideas, if you're a patent owner you can claim patents on the site and, once verified, you can sell them. Patents.com includes a list price set by the patent holder, and anyone who is interested can be contacted through Patents.com. This is definitely a useful service for people who know what they're doing. Like anything that involves legality and potentially large sums of money, it's probably best to do some research before buying a patent on a site like this. The search, however, is quite a fun way to explore human ingenuity, and hopefully will lead to some fun patent discoveries from bloggers looking to unearth a major company's next big thing.