How to Start a Patent Idea

If you are wondering how to start a patent idea, you should first know that it is a lengthy and complex process. It can be hard for inventors, especially first time inventors, to even know where to begin. The first thing to come to terms with is that getting a patent done well requires financial resources. Getting a patent done without professional help can be done for under $1,000, but inventors who go this route risk losing patent protection all together. You don’t want to cut costs when trying to get a patent.

Do You Have an Idea for a New Invention?

The first thing that needs to be done when an inventor is planning to patent their invention is to conduct a patent search to make sure their invention is original. It is okay for inventors to conduct their own patent search initially, but eventually they should pay to have a professional patent search done by a patent attorney or patent agent.

Professional patent searchers are efficient at finding any relevant “prior art” that is out there to be found. Patent attorneys know how things are classified and described, and so they know how to search for the right terms.

Filing a Patent With or Without an Attorney

Law firms specializing in patents can draft and file provisional patent applications for as little as $2,000. Full utility patents typically cost at least $5,000, and can be much more expensive for complex inventions.

Many inventors that are priced out of hiring an attorney go through the process on their own. According to federal law, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office must provide help to individuals who apply for patents without legal counsel.

Keep a Careful Record of Your Invention

Record everything. Any notes made and documents created in the invention process should be saved. If you have witnesses that can attest to the work you did in creating the invention, have them sign an affidavit stating what they observed.

Make Sure Your Invention Qualifies for Patent Protection

Mere ideas cannot be patented. Only unique inventions that can be fully described can be patented. Inventions that are already patented or publicly sold likewise cannot be patented.

Assess the Commercial Potential of Your Invention

Consider the cost of patenting your invention from a business perspective. Is it worth it? Even without paying for assistance from a patent attorney, a patent can cost over $1,000 in fees to obtain. Moreover, the process of getting a patent is time consuming. Think about what you hope to gain by getting the patent and decide if it is worth the cost.

Thorough Patent Search

To confirm that your invention is original, a thorough patent search must be conducted. Search all United States patents. In some cases, you may want to search foreign patents as well. Also, a thorough search should make sure than an invention isn’t already being sold or discussed in journals.

Patent searches are a technical art, and are very time consuming. It is a good practice to have a patent search professionally done. When a search uncovers similar prior inventions, it is important to show in the patent application how your invention differs from or improves upon the prior patents.

Provisional Patent Application (PPA)

Many inventors file a provisional patent application (PPA) before filing for a full patent. Importantly, a PPA is not an actual application for the patent itself. But, a PPA will allow you to establish an earlier effective filing date, and allow you to use the term “Patent Pending” while you wait for your full patent to be granted. PPAs do not have as many technical requirements as full patent applications and are much cheaper. However, PPAs must still contain a full description of the invention.

Regular Patent Application (RPA)

A regular patent application (RPA) will officially start the examination process. It is only after you file an RPA that the Patent Office will look closely at your invention and begin to decide whether to grant your patent. RPAs are much more expensive.


Under federal law 35 U.S.C. § 102(b), when an invention is publicly disclosed, an inventor has one year to file a RPA. If an RPA is not filed within this time, the inventor permanently loses their right to patent the invention.

Document It

You must prove that the invention is your idea. This is why documentation is so important. An inventor’s journal, complete with dates, is an important reference to add to a patent application.

Research It

Make sure you have fully researched your idea from both a legal and a business perspective. Determine the cost of actually producing your invention, and the value that your patent will have to others.

Make a Prototype

Prototypes are working models of an invention that demonstrate – or at least closely approximate – what the final product will be like. In many cases, potential investors or licensees will want to see a prototype.

File a Patent

There are two primary types of patents: utility and design patents. Simply put, a utility patent protects an invention’s function and a design patent protects an invention’s aesthetic. For either type of patent, have a professional assist with the application process.

Market Your Invention

Licensing your patent is the easiest way to generate income. However, royalties for licensed patents typically are only in the range of 2-5 percent. And, most inventions take years to develop into products that can be sold on the market.

Get It in Writing

There is no way to protect your invention without a patent. In the United States, the first to file for a patent gets it (rather than the first to invent something). Therefore, get your patent application in as soon as possible.

Your Homework - The Patent Search

If your invention already exists, forget about patenting it unless you can seriously improve upon it. You should have a professional conduct a patent search, but before doing so you can do your own preliminary search. The USPTO website offers some guidance on patent searches, and inventors can gain access to the Patent Office archives to search for patents.

Be careful about relying on invention marketing firms. These types of firms have dubious success rates, to say the least. They will tell you what you want to hear in order to get your money, but do very little to actually turn your invention into a marketable product.

If you need help with patents, 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