Instead of trying to get a concept patent approved, or the patent of an idea, it is important to change your concept into an invention. This is because it is not possible to patent an idea. A patent is only suitable for a functional invention or method of doing something. Patents are permitted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to prevent others from creating or selling a particular invention in the U.S. for a restricted amount of time.

What is Patentable?

According to the Patent Act, four types of inventions are suitable for patents: procedures, manufactures (e.g. manufactured items), and compositions of substance (e.g. a chemical makeup). For an idea to be patentable, it needs to fall under one or more of these classifications. However, there are a lot of ideas that do not come into any of these groupings. For example:

  • A law of nature (e.g. for each action, there is an identical or reverse reaction).
  • A rule of human behavior (e.g. people within a particular demographic usually purchase the same things).
  • A biological hypothesis (taking certain supplements makes people healthier).
  • A religion or philosophy.

Inventions

In addition, an invention must be practical and new. An invention is considered new if that invention has not been seen or used previously. The more straightforward and common an invention is, the less likely it is to be regarded as new.

The meaning of “practical” or “useful” is not as easy to describe. In relation to patent law, “useful” does not refer to the practicality of an invention or concept, but instead, it means that the invention has one or more exact use and preferably a use that is clearly defined.

What is Required in a Patent Document?

  • The Patent Act mandates that a patent needs to provide a written explanation of how to create and use the relevant invention.
  • This explanation needs to contain enough information so that anyone who is technically able in the area of the invention could build and use the invention.
  • The patent must also describe the best way, as examined by the inventor, of creating the invention.
  • This means that a patent must list a minimum of one solid, practical implementation and application of the invention – the best implementation and application that the inventor can come up with when patenting.
  • If an invention is just a simple idea, it is not solid enough to be patented.
  • Preferably, the patent will show as many implementations and applications of the idea as possible.
  • Regardless of what you might have heard, there is no successful way to defend an idea.

Can Concepts Be Protected?

Copyrights defend expression, while patents safeguard creations, but neither defend ideas. In terms of both, the concept is the first crucial move. However, without a recognizable representation of the concept, it is not possible to acquire intellectual property security or any unique rights. This is not to say that you should quit at the idea stage, but you should continue to develop your concept until it is solid enough to exist as more than what a judge would refer to as just an idea.

The main lesson to take away is that concepts cannot be safeguarded, so it is necessary to consider them in terms of invention. If you feel you can't get out of the concept stage, don't give up. A lot of inventors find themselves stuck in the concept phase every now and then. So if you find yourself there, just know that others have been in the same position. Many individuals will have good ideas, but what separates those who profit from their ideas from those who cannot is a strategy to flesh out the concept enough so that it can become an asset.

Protecting Your Idea

  • In the U.S., it is not necessary to build a prototype before putting in a patent application.
  • You will only need to be able to explain the invention so that others could potentially create and use that invention.
  • Therefore, although you will need a recognizable representation, you can begin by demonstrating your idea on paper.
  • If you get some assistance, you might even be able to flesh it out more than you assumed.
  • Contacting a professional with expertise in 3D modeling or illustrating may help bring your idea to life.

If you need help with a patent, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.