Prior art (also sometimes state of the art) is a term used to describe all of the information currently available that is relevant to a patent's claims of originality. Prior art can include other patents, articles from scholarly or trade publications, presentations at conferences, existing products on the market, and other types of information disclosure. The purpose of a prior art search is to unearth all of this pre-disclosed information for the purpose of demonstrating patentability.
A patent application will be compared to the prior art to determine whether it actually describes a new invention, and whether or not a patent should be granted. Although this is only one factor in determining patentability of an invention, an inventor or entrepreneur should conduct a thorough prior art search before filing a patent application. This should not be limited to just a patent search: inventors should also search the non-patent literature including scholarly and trade journals and other publications.
Prior art searching can be a lengthy and time-consuming process, involving hundreds or thousands of references. A wide range of search tools and strategies must be used, and the process must be repeated over time so new developments in the field can be considered. Consulting with a patent professional can help ensure a fully comprehensive search has been done.