What is Prior Art?
Prior art, in its most basic definition, is previous information and patents that are publically available that might already address your proposed patent.
So doing a prior art search means searching previous information and patents to make sure your patent has not already been covered.
Why do a prior art search?
Patents are only approved if they are "new", so you need to know whether your invention has been included in previous patents.
At TTU, after you turn in the Invention Disclosure Form, the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) conducts a prior art search. This can take months, and you don't want to wait that long to discover there is a previous patent for your invention. Additionally, the more information you provide on prior art, the better informed the Advisory Committee on Patents and Copyrights is when making a decision on whether to file your patent.
Tips for Prior Art Searching
When conducting prior art searches, whether in a database or Google, the keywords you use are most important. Brainstorm keywords related to the purpose, use, and composition of the invention. Be sure to search by both common names and scientific names for more thorough searching as well as synonyms and various forms of the word (example: mousetrap, mouse trap, rodent trap, trapping mice, capturing rodents, mus, mus musculus, etc).