The first step in obtaining your patent is usually a patent search. A patent search is when a patent database such as Google Patents or the USPTO is scoured for inventions similar to what an inventor has. After the search is complete, an attorney can analyze the results and explain to you how they may affect the patentability of your invention. This has several distinct advantages:
1. You can find out if your invention is novel.
2. Even if you are certain your invention is novel, you can find out which aspects of the invention are the most novel.
3. You can find out how close the prior art is to your invention.
4. You can realize that even though your invention is novel in your industry, another invention from another industry may compete with your idea.
If you'd like to find out more about patentability, you can browse 35 U.S.C. 101, 35 U.S.C. 102, and 35 U.S.C. 103.