Preparing to Apply
You might begin by asking, “Why a patent?” The basic concept of the patent is to protect your invention from being used by others without your permission. There may be many reasons to try to obtain a patent, but often it revolves around economic protection of your invention. You can usually do three things to generate a financial reward for your creation:
- You can sell parts or the whole patent outright, which is called “assignment.” This may seem like good and quick upfront money, but the risk is that you may be selling your invention too soon, before its value matures through market awareness and demand.
- You can license the use of your patent to others in exchange for royalties. Royalties can be anything that you stipulate and agree on with your licensee; money, land or even livestock! A royalty is usually paid to you as a percentage of each item produced or sold using your invention. This is potentially a good stream of revenue, but it may take years for that stream to turn into a river.
- You can do it yourself, meaning producing and bringing your invention to market on your own. Often, to prove the usefulness of your gadget, the market demand has to be proven by you. Who better to prove this than the inventor? You hold the total destiny of your invention in your own hands, giving yourself overall freedom – the downside is that you’ll bear the total expense and risk of the entire venture.
The only other reason for obtaining a patent may be completely self-motivated – just to say, “I have a patent … I’m an inventor!” No matter what the motivation, these are all valid reasons for taking the time to apply.
For you, a patent provides the exclusive right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling your invention for a limited period of time. Utility patents protect your invention for 20 years starting from the original filing date. This boils down to giving you the exclusive opportunity to help your invention prosper, and to realize its full potential as a novel item. The patent system also spurs new creativity for future technology by offering protection to the inventor.
But before you rush to apply for a patent, you should first assess the potential of your own invention. Ask yourself, along with some trusted friends (yes, everybody signs a non-disclosure … even Mom) whether or not this is a cool and catchy idea, or, at the end of the day, if it is simply quirky. As tough as it may be, be honest with yourself and your invention.
If everybody flips over it and agrees that it may be an original idea, then you will want to take the next step and retain the services of a professional patent attorney. Stay away from the “all-in-one” patent/ marketing firms that promise to take your idea into the stratosphere and make you an instant millionaire. Many times they have ulterior motives which don’t involve you. During your hunt for the right patent attorney, do not be afraid to ask a plethora of questions, and be firm on seeing references of other patents they’ve been involved with.
The Patent Search
The next step is performing a “patent search” on your idea, which more than likely would be sourced out to a professional patent searching firm for a minimal fee. The search involves looking for pre-existing patents on file at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) which may be in conflict with your invention. A good search might discover that your idea has already patented by another inventor, or it could find material within a similar patent which may be close to your design in some way. Fundamentally this exercise is to unearth as much preexisting patent material that relates to your invention.
However, you don’t necessarily have to outsource the search stage of the patent process; you can do a lot of patent searching yourself, if you have the drive and patience to do so. The USPTO provides a free online search service which is open to the world. Simply go to uspto.gov/patft/. Here you can do a quick or detailed search for any issued or publicly posted pending patents on your own.