Intellectual Property can be a minefield for the private inventor and it is always wise to seek advice (see our Links page). Your first port of call in the UK should probably be the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO), in particular their advice for inventors. The Business and IP Centre (BIPC), at The British Library is also a useful source of information and advice.
If you want to determine the likelihood that your invention is truly new and involves an inventive step, there are many free database systems which you can explore yourself, a few of which are listed on our links page. Of these perhaps the most useful to the private inventor is the Espacenet system from the European Patent Office.
At some stage it is likely that you will want to consult a Patent Attorney, and in the UK the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) can help you find one. CIPA also holds regular clinics around the country which give free basic advice.
We are however happy to provide pre-paid for search services to the private inventor. Our budget novelty search priced at £500, is a first look at the area and benefits from our use of subscription databases available. Several clients have modified their initial patent filings based on these reports.