A prior art search is not a prerequisite to filing a patent application. The Patent Office will conduct a prior art search as a part of the examination process. Notwithstanding, inventors should and often opt for a prior art search before they invest any substantial amount of money filing their patent application. At a minimum, inventors should perform a preliminary prior art search on their own using one of the free patent databases available, such as Google Patents and FreePatentsOnline. The preliminary search should also include an Internet search for similar products. Inventors that are not comfortable performing their own search can turn to a search professional that can perform the search them starting at around $500.