Updated November 26, 2020:

Understanding how to protect an invention isn't all that difficult. Basically, the most effective ways to protect an invention are to be very careful when you are pitching your idea and to apply for a patent.

Basics of Protecting Your Invention

Once you've developed an invention that you believe will be profitable, you'll be faced with a big problem: pitching your invention while avoiding theft. The best way to profit from an invention is to license it to another entity, such as a business or manufacturer. Once your invention has been licensed, the licensee will get to work on the process of bringing your invention to market, which includes several steps:

  • Mass production
  • Advertising
  • Selling

The issue with licensing, however, is that when you pitch your idea, it can be very easy to reveal too much information, and if this occurs, your invention can be stolen, and you may have little to no legal recourse. Simply put, if you disclose too much about your invention, the company to which you are pitching may be able to manufacture your idea without having to pay you.

Fortunately, several strategies can be used to protect your idea. Both professional and amateur inventors can benefit from taking precautions to protect their ideas, and employing these strategies will allow you to pitch your ideas confidently without worrying about theft.

As mentioned, licensing is an effective way to make money off of an invention. The more you pitch your idea, however, the more it will be at risk of theft. Although having an idea stolen is a legitimate fear, you likely won't be able to manufacture or profit from your invention without help from another person. Also, delaying bringing your product to market may cause you to miss out on a tremendous amount of money.

Because inventors typically want to make money from their product as soon as possible, they may not want to deal with the time or cost necessary to obtain a patent. Luckily, there are other legal protections available for intellectual property, which are usually easier to acquire. Legal protections for intellectual property fall into three primary categories, including:

  1. Copyrights
  2. Patents
  3. Trademarks

Several different types of creations could be considered intellectual property. For example, artwork such as a song or a novel is considered IP. Different legal protections are available for different forms of intellectual property. Copyrights, for example, are used to protect different forms of art, including movies, books, songs, and paintings. On the other hand, trademarks are used to protect items that businesses use for marketing purposes, including logos, slogans, and symbols.

The purpose of patents is to protect a wide array of inventions. An invention could be a machine, a chemical process, or even a new plant species. If you wish to file a patent, you need to be the first person to invent your product. If you and another person invent something at the same time, you both can file a patent application, and the actual patent will be granted to the person who can prove themselves as the original inventor.

If you're looking for a solution for protecting your invention, filing for a patent can be a good option if your invention is original. Before a patent will be granted, you must meet several qualifications. For instance, your invention must be unique, which means it cannot include any features that are already covered by another patent.

Before you begin the lengthy patent application process, you should perform a thorough search of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database for patents that are similar to your own invention. If you find a patent for an invention that is identical or very similar to your own, you will likely not be able to obtain a patent unless you make substantial changes to your invention.

Another requirement to obtain a patent is that your invention must be non-obvious. In basic terms, this means that an expert in the field of your invention would not have been able to create your idea. If you're not sure whether your invention is patentable, you should consult with a patent attorney. An experienced patent attorney can examine your invention and tell you whether pursuing a patent will be worth the effort.

If you have questions about how to protect an invention, 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.