I work as an engineer (not software) and occasionally I have ideas that might make sense to follow through and maybe arive at some sort of invention. The first step would be, of course, to look up if anyone else had the same idea.
My approach consists mainly of either knowing from my field of the industry that something has already been done, asking collegues, or googling, searching journals.
What are other approaches? I'm especially mystified the way patents are sorted (I work in Germany, the most relevant search engine would be the DEPATIS net or somesuch of the german patent office) and would appreciate any guide here. Is there a patent research 101 out there?
Also, I find I hard to gather technical information from a patent but that's mostly because of the weird, long sentences that lawyers seem to like and the weird structure that the patent system forces on the documents - something that practice can probably fix.
Note that I want to know how to find out two linked things:
*Has something been done and is proven or disproven to work?
*Has something been patented or can't be because of prior art?
But I would really appreciate an answer that only adresses one of those.