You Have a Great Idea, Now What?

If you have a great idea, don’t ignore it! But keep in mind that ideas themselves cannot be patented. The invention itself, however, can be patented. There are some basic guidelines you can follow to ensure that your invention is introduced to the public, while also being protected from others who may want to use or sell it without your permission.

Don’t be afraid of the patent process. While it can be rather time-consuming, costly, and complex, if you feel confident that your invention will succeed, you should accept the challenge.

You don't have to be a know-it-all entrepreneur to start a business. All you need is an inspiration. But, what if you don’t have the time to dedicate to your idea or brand? There are many options for those with great ideas who either don’t want to or don’t have the time to start running a company.

Patent: What is it?

A patent prohibits others from using, creating, or selling your invention. Thus, it is a grant of a property right to the owner. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issue patents in the United States.

How Much Does a Patent Cost?

Trying to ascertain the costs associated with patenting an invention in the United States can be rather difficult as it depends on the technology involved. It is important to understand that the act of patenting an invention can bring challenges. Your invention must be unique, and due to the strict measures imposed by the United States Supreme Court, United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, as well as other regulations imposed from the USPTO, have made it difficult to have an invention patented. However, with, it is easier to obtain a patent today than it was five to 10 years ago. Although it may be easier, it is certainly not cheaper.

In order to better understand the costs associated with patenting your invention, you should consider the following:

  • Discuss with a patent attorney, or even analyze for yourself, the costs associated with preparing and filing a patent application with the USPTO.
  • Consider the type of invention you have. How complex is it? If complex, the process may be costlier and more time-consuming. If you have a simple invention, however, the patent review may not take as long, and thus, will be cheaper.
  • If you are going to receive a patent, then you will be required to fill out a nonprovisional patent application.
  • Government filing fees of $730 are the minimum costs associated with patent applications for small entities.
  • The fees associated with micro entities are generally at least $400.
  • Professional drawings, which are highly recommended, will typically add another $300-$500 depending on the complexity of the drawing.
  • Don’t forget—if you hire an attorney to assist you in the application process, you’ll be responsible for legal fees, which won’t come cheap with patent applications. The more complex your invention is, the higher the legal fees will be.
  • You’ll want your application to be as strong as it can be in order to be successful in your patenting your invention. Therefore, taking the time to hire an attorney and a professional to draw your invention on paper (for the patent examiner to review so he or she can better understand your invention and the economic purpose of it), is important.
  • Generally, individual investors may want to find ways to cut corners financially. However, it is important to note that a patent application is not straightforward. There are many intricacies involved in the application, and a strong application usually involves an attorney’s assistance.

Do it Yourself

While it is advisable to hire a patent attorney to assist you throughout the process, you might choose to go at it alone. Filing a patent on your own will cost a lot less, but be mindful that it takes a lot of time. It may take even more time for you as you lack the professional knowledge. So, if you do choose to do it on your own, keep in mind the following:

  • Conduct your own patent search
  • In fact, Google allows you to search for current patents, will provide you with academic papers and other related websites to find what other inventors, if any, have an invention similar to yours.
  • You may even want to reach out to others who operate in the same field as you to see if they patented their inventions and how they went about the process. You can reach out to these individuals through social networks.
  • Find a patent that is related to your application, using it as a template for yours.
  • Create or draft your own drawings

What If I want to Sell My Idea or Invention?

Option 1: Taking a Quick Payoff

A payoff is when someone signs over the rights to an idea and receives compensation in return.

A payoff is a great option for someone who is already content working a full-time job and doesn’t want to give up the position to run a business. Before going down this route, however, one should get a patent for his or her idea. Without one, someone else can take the idea freely and run with it.

Things to consider when taking a payoff include:

  • It may be a good idea to ask the potential buyer to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
  • Prepare a prototype of your idea to potential buyers, which can, in turn, increase the price of your idea.
  • Conduct a survey, asking 100 people if they would be interested in your idea. For example, if you have a product invention, you may want to ask potential customers if they would be interested in purchasing your product should it be sold it stores or online.

Option 2: Licensing Your Idea

Licensing is when the owner of the idea licenses it to an individual or business, but continues to receive a portion of each product sold.

Maybe a quick payoff isn’t ideal in your situation. If this should be the case, licensing the idea might be a better option instead of selling it outright. Consider the following when considering licensing your idea:

If you license your idea, you will receive a smaller initial payment, and then continue receiving roughly between 5%-20% from each product sold thereafter.

Option 2: Keeping Long-Term Ties

In some instances, people don’t have the time to dedicate to their ideas, but want to remain involved in the process somehow, beyond just receiving a regulator royalty check for each product sold. If you fit into this category, you’ll want to play an advisory type of role, influencing any larger decisions on how your product or brand should grow.

You can choose from one of the following two options should you choose to go down this route:

  1. You can either find a partner (business or individual) to help expand and grow your idea or brand. This partner will provide the funding necessary, as well as manage the day-to-day operations, while you oversee the process.
  2. You can provide the funding yourself to get your idea or brand started, and hire employees to manage the daily operations for you.

Option 3: Giving the Idea Away

Giving the idea away is another option. This option is best for those who care more about the idea than the money itself. For example, if you had an idea or product that will help those in need, you may prefer to give your idea away to a company that can better expand upon this idea, and get the product to market much quicker than you’d be able to. Even if you choose this option, it is always best to have a contract in place ensuring that all details are referenced to protect yourself from any potential claims that may arise in the future.

Option 4: Sitting Tight for the Time Being

Here is another option for you – waiting. For example, you may be hesitant to launch a company or brand because you don’t have the time. You may not have the time because you have a family to raise or a demanding job that doesn’t allow you the time. But, if you wait it out, you may find yourself in a better position, with the ability to dedicate your time to your idea.

The Best Ways to Sell an Idea without Getting a Patent

Getting your product, idea, or brand patented can be a very time-consuming process, and may even take several years to complete; if you can’t capitalize on your creation right away, there are other options available to you, including the following:

1. Patent Pending

If you want to sell your idea without having a patent on the product, another approach is to obtain a provisional patent. In order to do this, you will fill out a form and pay a small fee. Upon doing so, you can now tell the world that your product is “patent pending” and present it to potential consumers. This process protects your invention from being stolen from others.

Keep in mind the following key points:

  • A patent protects inventions and not ideas
  • A copyright protects creative works
  • A trademark protects commercial communications Invention Submission

2. Invention Submission

Another way to sell your invention without obtaining a patent is to submit your invention to a company. With a little research, you’ll find that many companies offer help to inventors for a specific fee. Be mindful of the fees and services offered by each company, as this will vary depending on the business as well as the invention itself. Some companies assist the inventor in obtaining a patent while others will go as far as assisting you in the potential sale of your creation.

3. Online Idea Submission

Another alternative way to sell your idea is to submit it online, whether it be through a contest or other program. If your idea is then chosen by a customer, you will receive a fee.

Keep in mind that submitting your idea online generally only pays you a one-time fee; however, the plus side is that it allows you to be creative and come up with multiple ideas while getting paid to do so!

Let us Help

If you need help applying for a patent or have an idea or invention that you want to sell, 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, Stripe, and Twilio.