As to inventions: "what if someone’s beat you to the punch?"
In an "infomercial" on patent searching, entrepreneur has the following text
But what if someone’s beat you to the punch? What if someone’s already hatched a similar product or process and patented it? How can you be sure a patent for your invention isn’t already taken?
You have two choices: You could 1) hire a patent attorney (for a pretty penny) to run a patent search for you, or 2) you could conduct a patent search yourself. While the second option will likely chew up more time and brainpower, it could save you a lot of money, perhaps even enough to help bootstrap the launch of your dream product or service.
Some software people have a third choice: go into the marketplace without checking the patent literature.
link to entrepreneur article: