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Seeking Prior Art Before Filing Patent? 86

An anonymous reader asks: "I had a sort of out-there idea for computer hardware, and wanted to investigate design and manufacture. I figure the first step would be to patent the idea so that I am protected from it being stolen, while I confer with contractors about fabrication and circuit design. Does anyone know of ways to check for prior art, other than hitting up Google for something similar? I believe this idea is unique, but you never know what could have been out there, and I didn't know if there were any good resources on the web. Since the readership seems to be an inventive bunch, I think discussion on this topic may help more people than myself."

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