Have an innovative mind that has come up with some decent business ideas? Perhaps you have already even developed a useful product that shows great potential for success. Whatever the reason you are here now reading this article, know that we have some useful knowledge on why and how to patent an idea that will hopefully get you closer to knowing if this is the right choice for you.
The Purpose of a Patent
The patent system was designed to promote the creation and innovation of ideas by allowing inventors ownership for their work and granting them an “exclusionary right.” The exact basis for the patent system can be found in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution. It is stated that this article grants Congress the power “to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”
This gives inventors the legal right to prevent any other from using, making, selling or importing their invention. By definition, this specification is what determines the patent as a “negative right” as opposed to a “positive right”. A positive right would allow one to make, use, sell or offer something for sale This is also known as monopolistic right. A negative right, on the other hand, is a right that puts restrictions on using something in a type of way. Technical terminology aside, a patent protects future revenue stream, but this is only for a limited time.
You might be curious as to why a grant is only protected for a limited time. Due to the patent expiration process, this process was designed to allow the public access and information for using the once-patented product. After the time of patent expiration, the public will then be able to take advantage of this opportunity, essentially allowing them the potential to innovate a once-patented invention further. By having the system setup this way, it sets the stage and encourages progress towards technological advances. This makes sense to do for positive intentions; many minds are greater than one, typically.
So, you're wondering how to patent an idea? Let's find out about the kinds of patents. There are 3 different types of patents that exist, as of now: utility patents, design patents and plant patents. Utility patents give any individual the right to a patent that invents or discovers any useful, new process, machine, article of manufacture or composition of matter. Utility patents can also be given to those that discover any new or useful improvement to those categories of creations just mentioned. Design patents have the ability to grant anyone who specifically invents an original ornamental design for an article of manufacture. And lastly, plant patents are allowed to those who discover or invent a plant that asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of species.
Should You Patent Your Idea?
If you are undecided about getting a patent for your idea, here are some things to consider before committing. Understand that while there are many benefits to having a patent for a product, it isn’t the only way to find success in using your creation. Patents aren’t the cheapest of things to apply for especially if you are filing for a patent that is for a mechanical or electrical device. This could cost up to $2,500 to $3,000.
Also, not to bring down your hopes or discourage you in any way---only two to three percent of all patented products get approved for the market. Once again, we're not telling you that you should not try to patent your product. We’re just suggesting it doesn't have to be your first step or even a required one.
You may also be asking yourself in regards to how to patent an idea, what is the first step in obtaining a patent? We suggest an overall assessment and evaluation of your product. That includes understanding how viable your business opportunity is. To do so, really try to understand your product. Determine what its potential target market would be, and get a good idea for your competition. The last thing you would want to do is spend all of that time, energy and money on a product that doesn't have a strong potential foothold in today's marketplace. We will discuss in greater detail what we think you should research further to avoid situations like this.
How to patent an idea? The process involves research. As we mentioned previously, it's a really good idea to know your product before applying for a patent. This includes also knowing if your product may be infringing on someone else's product that is already patented. You can go about this in different ways. But to know for sure, you'll need to conduct a "preliminary patent search." To do so, you can either hire an expert to help you or do it yourself.
Before filing for a patent, it's important to have your product's materials or mechanics in official order---should you happen to develop a product that you would consider to be anywhere shy of your ideal final product. It may prove to be a difficult process in dealing with the patent modification system. It is best to build your prototype first. That way you know if you like it, you know it's ready to be patented.
Not to assume you don't understand your product or product-to-be, but it's also important to determine how much it's going to cost you to make your creation. Say it costs more to make than the market is willing to give for it. (We figured we'd mention a quick product cost tip, just in case.)
Benefits of a Patent
After taking all of the above mentioned information into consideration when assessing how to patent an idea, you can now decide whether you need the patent. For those who will later learn that their product is not able to be patented, don't panic. Thousands of products that exist on today's market are not patented. And it's not just because they aren't able to be patented. Like we said, you can find success without a patent.
In discovering how to patent an idea, you must know about licensing rights. In gaining a patent for your product, you also gain the right to license your product to a company or multiple companies, depending on the terms of your licensing agreement. And not only that, patented products are a lot more desirable for companies as well. This gives them the confidence that they won't be infringing on the rights of another patent. And actually, some companies may only agree to product licensing if a product is patented or patent-pending.
How to Patent an Idea
At this point in finding out how to patent an idea, you may still see value in getting a patent for your product. If this is the case, then we are going to provide you with some steps which hopefully make this a smoother process for you.
Proof of Invention
First, understand that it is not completely necessary to hire a lawyer for this process. Just to be clear. There will be no court, judge or legal "research phase in this process. In fact, the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office), which is the department in charge of approving and issuing patents, has rules anyone can follow just fine without a lawyer.
With that in mind, you may still want to take legal precautions while filing for your patent. If you haven't already, a good start would be to develop some sort of record for your invention. This could be a developmental, step-by-step process giving insight on the evolution of your product or even just having descriptions or diagrams that denotes key aspects of your invention. As long as there is some sort of documentation of your invention, you should have what you need. Also, we suggest signing and dating each entry and have two reliable witnesses sign off on this as well. (It is better to be safe than sorry.)
Prepare Then File with the USPTO
In the patent filing process, these are the steps:
- Making sure your invention qualifies for patent protection
- Assessing the costs and having the funds
- Doing a thorough patent search
After checking these steps off of the list, you can then begin the next step which is filling out a Provisional patent application (PPA). This isn't an actual application for the patent itself. Filing a PPA only allows you to claim a patent-pending status. It is a sort of pre-phase process, if you will. It can cost anywhere from $65-$250, depending on the company. And it requires a detailed description of the product, including an informal drawing.
After doing this, you can file for an RPA (Regular patent application). Just be sure to do this within a year after filing for the PPA. Otherwise, you will no longer be able to claim the PPA filing date. You can file for an RPA in one of two ways: electronically or by mail. If you are filing by mail, we suggest you make copies of the pages you send. Also, you have the option to have a receipt sent back to you, which we also recommend. By attaching a stamped, self-addressed postcard to the first page of the documents you plan to send, the USPTO will be able to send you back a receipt.
If you decide to file electronically instead, understand that it might be faster to do so by mail, especially if you are only filing one application. But filing online has its advantages too. You get to avoid the mailing system, and you also have the advantage of obtaining instant confirmation of the PTO's receipt of documents.
All in all, there's much to consider when deciding whether to file a patent for your product. Realistically, it depends on exactly what type of product you have created and whether you think a patent is worth it. If money isn't an issue and you don't mind putting in the time and effort, file away; apply for a patent.