The importance of patents is that they offer an owner the exclusive rights to an invention in his/her country and excludes others from making, using, or selling the product during the patent's life. But being awarded a patent has its challenges. A patent must satisfy certain conditions, which are relatively universal with slight variances.

What Is Patentable?

Filing a patent could be related to a variety of ideas that include products, processes, or design. A patent is usually defined by these attributes: the idea is new, not obvious, and has utility.

How Long Are You Protected?

In general, patents for products, applications, or designs have a 20-year term of exclusivity. Upon the expiration of this time limit, others can then use the invention without permission. This time constraint has been expanded, as it was once only good for 17 years.

Is Your Invention Already Patented?

When considering the importance of patents, it's important to understand your idea may already be patent-pending. The challenge with filing a patent is that most are not published for about 18 months after filing. Until that time, you won't have visibility into the inventions of competitors.

You can, however, search the patent databases to learn what products or ideas have current patents. It's important to check this before filing.

File Before Disclosure

Inventors do have the discretion to disclose their invention before filing. They have one year to do so after disclosure. During this time, a competitor could file the patent.

However, in the U.S., the court will rule on the side of the individual who was first to invent, as long as it's within one year of disclosure. Filing a U.S. patent is also considered as filing for international purposes. Be protected by filing before disclosing.

Why Patent Your Invention?

The importance of patents comes down to protection. With a patent, you have exclusive rights and about 20 years to refine and leverage the idea before your competitors do. Here are the core reasons that patents are so important:

  • Healthy market position: your new idea could be a great differentiator among competitors
  • Favorable image: you'll be seen as thought leaders, building credibility and your reputation
  • Higher return on your investment: applying for a patent could cost in excess of $10,000, and you can commercialize the concept for returns
  • License or sell the invention: if you don't have the time or means to exploit the invention, sell it for a new revenue stream
  • Raise funds for your business: if you have a patent that allows you to gain market share, investors will be interested
  • Increase your negotiating power: if you have a patent pending, this may help you when developing new contracts

Are Patents Still Important?

There are many that argue that the importance of patents, especially those for intellectual property, is no longer crucial. In the well-known case of Apple v. Motorola, Judge Richard Posner said, “It's not clear that we really need patents in most industries.”

Others have argued that the patent system is really just a way to strangle innovation by large companies that have the wherewithal to file patents. Additional discussion on the subject has questioned the need for patents and the allowance of piracy as a good thing. These assertions, however, come up pretty empty. If an individual creates something unlike anything else, he/she should have the ability to protect those ideas and future income.

The bottom line on if patents are necessary comes down to a simple argument. Technology certainly makes it easy to invent things with high speed. Just because they occur on an accelerated timetable doesn't mean these inventions are less important or don't need to be protected.

What Happens Without Patents?

If patents became obsolete, entrepreneurs would be in constant fear of having their ideas stolen by competitors with more resources. This apprehension could then lead to those individuals never launching companies or exposing the world to ideas. This would signal a time of less innovation and discovery.

The Importance of Patents Is Still Clear

The patent system, of course, isn't perfect. The patent offices could be more discriminating on their standards. This would also reduce the amount of litigation around flawed patents. There is an opportunity to update the laws around patents, copyrights, and licensing.

The current patent system is not really designed for ideas. Because of this, the process can be burdensome. It's a good idea to consult legal experts on the importance of patents. Start now by posting your request to the UpCounsel job board to find a patent attorney that matches your needs.