If you are thinking about starting a new business, or just thought of an idea for a business, many people think someone out there is already doing it and that they should not bother. Instead of stopping there, why not spend just a few moments putting this idea to the test? By taking some simple steps, you can get a basic answer to the question of whether or not someone is doing the idea that you thought of. Be sure and also take a look at How to Research Your Business Name.

Step one is easy enough, run a few searches online, with your preferred search engine, of your business idea, to see if there is someone out there using it already. If you do find something similar or related to what you had in mind, it is important to take note of just how alike these findings are to your idea. Also look at whether or not they are actively using the idea and what areas of the country they are located in. If you do not find anything using broad terms or find too many results to manage, consider narrowing your search with more specific terms or with geographical terms, to give you more precise results.

Step two is a little more tedious, but it can give you some of the most important information of all. Visit the U.S. Patent Office website to search trademarks and patents, to see if anyone has any federal protections on ideas for slogans, symbols, inventions, and others.

To search through the trademark database, go to http://tmsearch.uspto.gov and run some Basic Word Mark searches. If you find something similar to your idea, follow this up with a normal online search to see if they are still an active company. You want to look and see whether or not they are actually selling or doing whatever it is they claimed is associated with the trademark. This is only the federal registry, so you will also want to take a look at your state’s registry too. Colorado’s can be found at http://www.sos.state.co.us/biz/BusinessEntityCriteriaExt.do, and this will search business names and trademarks. Remember that when it comes to trademarks, there are federal, state, and common law protections available to be considered.

To search the federal patent register, go to http://appft.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/ and click on Quick Search under Patents. Now try running different terms based on your business idea to see if someone has already patented what you had in mind. Remember that in order to be patentable, the idea must be an invention or improvement to an existing invention that is useful, novel, non-obvious, adequately described or enabled, and claimed by the inventor in clear and definite terms.

Copyrighted works can also be useful things to search through if your business idea involves any creative works. You can visit http://copyright.gov/eco/ and search their database. This database will only search the national registry, meaning someone must have registered their copyright for it to be here (which is not required), so it is important to note that this search is not exhaustive. However, this is still an important place to check regardless.

If you do not turn up any results that are similar using the various search engines and techniques described here, this is good news, but keep in mind that these are basic searches and it is recommended that you speak with an attorney to discuss if more thorough searching is necessary. Nevertheless, the information you obtained will still be helpful in determining what your next step should be.

On the other hand, if you did find someone is already doing what you had in mind, do not give up! Start thinking about a different approach to whatever the existing business is selling or doing, so you can continue refining your entrepreneurial ideas. Keep in mind that you can always consider sitting down with an attorney to explore the level of differences necessary to move forward with your business and protect you against related businesses already operating.

If you have any questions about your findings or you are ready to take the next step in starting your business or protecting your business idea, contact the Law Office of E.C. Lewis PC, home of your Denver Business Lawyer, Elizabeth Lewis, 720-258-6647 or email her at Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com.