For many student and other early-stage projects, the goal is of a patent search to find out what already exists or is currently being developed. This "state-of-the art" type search typically does NOT give enough information to know if a particular idea is patentable or infringes on an existing patent, but it does give information about what has been tried already and how similar an idea is to what has been patented.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office issues patents to protect an inventor's exclusive right to profit from his or her own ideas. For a fixed, non renewable period of time, the inventor can exclude all others from making, using, or selling the invention without authorization. To receive a patent, an invention must be new and useful or significantly different from previous inventions of its type. The government currently issues three types of patents: utility, design, and plant patents. To learn more, see these pages from USPTO:
Need assistance with your search? Organizations affiliated with the USPTO are available to contact.