Before applying for any patent, including a Patent Co-operation Treaty (PCT) application, you should conduct a search across all relevant countries to see if there is anything similar in the market place which may affect the outcome of your application.
Your invention must be kept secret until you have applied for patent protection. You can still talk to your employees, business partners or advisers about your invention, but make it clear that the information is to be kept confidential. You could even ask them to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Searches conducted yourself are free.
Searches conducted by an IP professional will attract a cost.
Length of search process
There is no set time for the search to be conducted.