Do You Need a Prototype to Get a Patent?

When asking “do you need a prototype to get a patent,” remember that you can’t patent an idea; you can only patent a tangible thing. Therefore, you need to get some substantive work done describing the thing you seek to patent before you can patent an invention. If you can describe the thing you want to patent in enough detail, with drawings and other information, you can patent your invention because it is at that point more than a mere idea.

Documentation and illustrations are crucial. You must concretely and specifically describe your invention. When an idea can be completely described in the form of a tangible thing, it can be patented as an invention.

Do You Have a New Invention Idea?

A problem arises when multiple parties all think they have the same idea. For instance, if an inventor tells a company about their idea, then the company may later develop it and try to claim ownership of it. Having a patent pending application protects an idea for the inventor.

Never tell a third party about your idea when you lack a provisional patent unless you completely trust them and they have signed a non-disclosure agreement.

Enough Detail

You should be able to completely describe your invention before applying for a patent. A description should convey all of the important components of an invention. However, you do not need to describe every minute detail.

Further Inventing During Prototyping

It is common for inventors to continue fine-tuning and improving on their invention after they have filed a provisional patent application. There are two main ways to handle new developments to your invention: the multiple patent application approach and the prototype-then-patent approach.

Multiple Patent Application Approach

This approach requires inventors to file a new provisional patent each time significant changes occur. Whether a new patent is necessary depends on how substantial the invention has changed. Sometimes, small changes do not justify the cost of filing another patent application.

Prototype First Then Patent Approach

Another approach is to develop a prototype before filing a patent application. Any third parties that have access to your prototype should sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Evaluating Novelty of New Details

Small changes do not require a new patent application. Whether a modification or improvement requires a new patent should be determined on a case-by-case basis. Inventions should be evaluated to determine whether significant modifications will be required before fully patenting, and whether a patent application should be filed before prototyping. A professional should analyze the specifics of your invention to determine the best course of action.

Patent Prototype: What Is It?

A patent prototype is a first creation, draft, model, or drawing of an invention.

Reasons to Patent or Build a Prototype

A patent doesn’t guarantee that your invention will be profitable, but it does protect your invention and give you the sole right to monetize it.

Higher Resale Value

A patent and prototype add to the value of your invention. However, they also take money and resources to get. Whether they are worth the cost must be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Prototyping vs. Not Prototyping

Whether or not to prototype depends on the cost and the type of invention involved.  Although some inventors always prototype as a matter of course, it certainly isn’t always necessary. The costs and benefits need to be balanced in every case.

Is a Prototype Necessary for Patents?

Prototypes are not always necessary, but they can sometimes aid in the chances of a patent being approved if they help others understand the invention.

Added Benefits of Prototyping

As mentioned, a prototype can make your invention easier for others to understand, thus helping in the application process. Because building a prototype requires extensive research and thought, it can also be useful in improving the invention.

Balance the Benefits/Costs of Prototyping Your Invention

Whether or not to prototype is an invention-specific inquiry. The costs and benefits need to be considered, which can vary depending on the invention.

When You Should Prototype Your Invention

When a prototype is relatively cheap, it is a good option. Prototypes are also useful to illustrate the function of an invention or to work out an invention that may not work at all.


Prototypes can also help with the marketing of an invention and help inventors attract capital.

When You Should Not Prototype Your Invention

If a product design is simple, and you do not intend to manufacture, a prototype may not be necessary. When prototypes are expensive, they also may not be worth the cost. And, if you intend to only license your patent rights, there is no reason to spend money on a prototype unless it is necessary to show the usefulness of the invention.

File a Patent

After testing your prototype, you should begin the process of submitting your patent application.

Cost of a Patent Application

A typical patent application costs between $6,000 and $9,000 on UpCounsel.

If you need help with patenting, 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, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.