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 Frequently Asked Questions:
Is my Invention new?  And how to search for patents for free.
The Round Tables of Inventors 5 click Guide for a patent search:

Check to see if your idea has been done before, using the free online search engine at the Intellectual Office,
1)     Click: www.ipo.gov.uk
2)     Click: Patents on left hand list, http://www.ipo.gov.uk/patent.htm
3)     Click: Using esp@cenet under Find Patents on middle list.
4)     Click:  Quick Search, then in box 3, type 2 or 3 relevant key words, being sure to put and between key words.
5)     Click: search.
A list of associated patents will then come up, click on these and view them to check  yours is new.  You should try a range of keywords. 
The above steps will give you a rough idea if your idea has been done before, although not all patents will be shown, there may be some submarine patents or patents that have not yet been published.
Alternatively, you could use the excellent services of the British Library's Business and IP Centre www.bl.uk/bipc/ for free (you will need a readers pass, details below), or get the British Library to do a search to see what's out there, they would charge approximately £140.00 to £200 for this service, however they will not be able to tell you if your idea is commercially viable.
How do I Protect my invention?
Do not tell anyone about your idea, unless you have filed for a patent. If you do need talk to someone about your idea, get them to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) first.  This will give you a certain amount of protection and be a record of your meeting, although some companies will not sign them, this is because it may prejudice something that they are working on themselves?

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