How to Patent an Idea or Product: Everything You Need to Know
If a product or idea has particular value, you can almost guarantee that someone else will infringe on it and that is why a patent is so important. 8 min read
How to Patent an Idea or Product
For those that want to know how to patent an idea or product, it is critical that you are as descriptive as possible when providing information on that idea or product.
- Provide as much description about your idea or product as you possibly can. Include everything such as what your invention is, what it does, how it is made, and how you will market it.
- By documenting everything you can about your invention, you are able to do a better job of protecting it from getting stolen.
- Do not count on the “poor man’ patent” (Writing your idea down on a piece of paper, enclosing it in a sealed envelope, and mailing it to yourself to secure dated proof of when you created the invention). It is highly unlikely that this form or patenting will hold up in court.
Complete an Initial Patent Search
- From both a legal and business standpoint, research your idea before pursuing a patent. You have to confirm that your invention doesn’t already exist before moving forward with the patenting process.
- You can conduct your own patent search on www.uspto.gov for free before you hire a patent attorney to do a more thorough search.
- Along with a patent search, you should conduct a non-patent “prior art” search.
Research Your Market
- An incredible 95 percent of patents never generate any profit for the person who invented the product or idea. This is why it is so important to do some basic research on your target demographic before committing to patent protection for your invention.
- By researching your target demographic, you can also discover more about your competition.
Make a Prototype
A prototype allows you to have something demonstrable to present to potential licensees. For most inventions, if you haven’t first made a prototype, don’t attempt to file a patent. Creating a prototype will also allow you to catch any revisions or flaws that need to be addressed to ensure the best invention possible.
File a Patent
You have two patent options:
- A utility patent (for machines or processes)
- A design patent (for nonobvious, new designs)
If a product or idea has particular value, you can almost guarantee that someone else will infringe on it and that is why a patent is so important. Not only that, having a patent attorney write a powerful patent is vital in ensuring there are no loopholes that might permit someone to get away with copying your invention.
Step by Step Instruction for Patenting an Invention Idea
Contrary to popular opinion, you personally cannot officially protect your idea.
To patent an idea, you need to eventually file a patent application. Essentially, an idea that has sufficient detail is not merely an idea, but an invention. For anything to be patented, it must be considered an invention.
- Mature your Idea: Take your idea and turn it into an invention.
- For an idea to be an invention, you have to be able to provide a sufficient amount of detail about the idea so that others could put it into use too or replicate your invention.
- Though not every invention needs a prototype, at the very least you need to include sketches to add greater description in your application.
- If you can’t provide sketches of your invention yourself, you can solicit the services of a patent illustrator to create the drawings for you at a reasonable price. For more complex inventions, you might want to consider the assistance of an engineering firm or any entity the can offer 3D renderings. This will help you articulate the make and purpose of your invention with more clarity.
What You Should Know About Confidentiality Agreements
If you feel you could receive more help developing your invention by telling others about it, make sure whoever you tell signs a confidentiality agreement first.
There are several types of confidentiality agreements to choose from:
- One-sided Agreement: one party is disclosing the information while the other party receives it.
- Mutual Confidentiality Agreements: When two parties are providing each other with confidential information (often done when negotiating a business deals), this type of agreement is most beneficial.
- Unilateral Confidentiality Agreements: One party is giving information to another party such as a potential licensee or investor.
Who to Share Your Invention Idea With
Again, only share your invention idea with someone who will sign a confidentiality agreement and who you believe will be able to help you build your idea. You can contact local universities to recruit the assistance of college students. You could also turn to family members and trusted friends for their insights. Inventors groups are also excellent resources for inventors. If you find a quality inventors groups you can:
- Share your ideas with other inventors and listen to their idea.
- Get additional resources on patenting and the next steps you should take.
- Listen to guest speakers or get advice on the best direction for your patent pursuit.
Using Your Invention Publicly
Using your invention publicly can be tricky since it often has the same repercussions as sale or offer for sale. You have a 12-month window to obtain a patent once you put in your application.
A Bad Provisional Patent Application
When a provisional patent application is used correctly, it can be hugely advantageous and when it is not, it can be disastrous.
Filing a provisional application is essentially effortless. You simply fill out a cover sheet and include an invention description. There are no formatting requires for the application (in fact, the provisional application is not even seen by the Patent Office).
The purpose of the provisional patent application is to give you a 12-month “extension” and a “patent pending” status. In that time, if you don’t create a highly detailed description of your invention that meets the standards of US patent laws, your provisional application is no good.
A Professional Patent Search
There are more than nine million patents in the United States. Because of such a high volume of patents as well as millions of published patent applications, it is nearly inevitable that by conducting a patent search, you will find something similar to your idea.
Conducting a patent search is essentially an art form. If you do not know the intricacy of how inventions are classified by the Patent Office, you would have a very difficult time finding a patent for precisely what you invented. If you conduct a patent search on your own, you may not come up with anything. However, this doesn’t mean that something isn’t out there. This is why seriously considering a professional to conduct your patent search is a wise idea.
There are many instances of patented products that cannot be bought. One reason for this is that an inventor might secure a patent but then never complete their project. Later, when someone else conducts a patent search on an idea similar to the one that was never finished, it is usually concluded that the patent is not a worthwhile commercial investment.
Many inventions never go on the market because they could not obtain a patent (simply because something else was already patented several years before).
The first thing you should do when you develop an invention idea is take to the internet to see if the invention already exists on online stores. If you see your invention idea already exists, you know not to move forward. If you do not see your invention idea, conduct your own patent search. If after completing your own patent search you do not find the invention, hire a patent attorney to conduct a professional search.
Filing a Patent without an Attorney
- Many independent inventors have been able to file a patent on their own without the assistance of a patent attorney.
- The USPTO is required under federal law to aid inventors in patent perusals when they do not have a lawyer.
Track the Process of Your Invention
- Keep track of every step, change, and detail involved in the process of creating your invention.
- Provide information on how you created the concept and include any modifications along the way.
- Some inventors with more complex ideas or products find it beneficial to create a prototype.
- With every new entry in your records notebook, sign and date it.
Confirm Your Invention Can Receive Patent Protection
- Getting a patent for just any idea simply isn’t possible.
- Your invention must be novel and different from anything else that exists and you must be able to show how it works.
- Additionally, your invention cannot be publicly known or on sale before applying for a patent.
Conduct a Thorough Patent Search
- If you don’t know if your invention is new, conduct a patent search to confirm it doesn’t already exist.
- To confirm that your invention is new, you must search patents in the United States (and sometimes elsewhere).
- Begin your patent search by checking online. It might also be useful to go to a Patent and Trademark Depository Library. This is where you are able to get assistance from a library in searching for existing patents. Check out Patent Searching Online to learn more.
- It is inevitable that you will discover patents similar to yours when conducting your search.
- When you create your patent application, you need to include information on what makes your invention unique or better than earlier inventions.
- You can learn more about doing a thorough patent search by watching the patent search tutorial created by USPTO.
- Another resource to check out is the USPTO’s Search for Patents Research Page. On there, you will discover links to search databases.
- For additional expertise, go to a Patent and Trademark Resource Center. More information about PTRC’s can be found by looking at the USPTO’s library list.
Provisional Patent Application:
You have two application choices to pick from when filing your patent application with the USPTO: a regular patent application (RPA) or a provisional patent application (PPA).
The provisional patent application is a something that allows you to claim a “patent pending” status while you continue to work on your invention. It is exponentially less expensive than a regular patent application and it is less time-consuming to file. However, the PPA itself will not guarantee you a patent. For an official patent you do need a RPA; the PPA simply buys you more time.
Filling a PPA costs $65 for micro-entities, $130 for small entities, and $260 for large entities. You must include a description of the invention, how it was made and how it can be used, and a drawing of the invention.
Regular Patent Application:
When you file a RPA, it begins the USPTO’s examination process of your patent application.
- To begin, fill out the Customer Number Request Form (found on the USPTO’s website).
- Include information related to the type of invention you have created, such as its purpose, how it was made, and how it works.
- Draft formal drawings of your invention.
- Attach an oath. An oath (or declaration) is a statement from the inventor saying he believes he is the original inventor of the idea or product.
- Familiarize yourself with the USPTO’s PDF guidelines to confirm that the formatting of your application is correct.
- After submitting your application, you will receive an authorization code and reference number.
- Your application will either be approved or denied
If you need help patenting an idea or product or have additional questions about the process, 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.