The invention process consists of the steps to create, develop, produce, and market a unique idea, including considerations such as documenting your invention, protecting confidentiality, searching and applying for patents, and licensing or manufacturing and selling the invention. These steps vary depending on the type of invention and other specifics.

Developing Your Idea

Most inventions are made to solve a specific problem. To come up with a great idea, start by brainstorming around the problem you're trying to solve. Write down all your thoughts because they will be important in the process of documenting your invention. When you hit on something you think may work, develop the idea by writing down details such as what it consists of, how it should work, and how it will be manufactured and marketed.

Having a record of your invention provides a basic level of intellectual property (IP) protection. Keep all your notes in a journal and ask a witness to sign and date it. Take steps to protect the confidentiality of your invention until you obtain a patent, a process that can take up to three years. Your witness and any other third parties who are privy to details about your invention should sign a confidentiality (non-disclosure) agreement. If anyone breaches this agreement by disclosing details about your invention to others, you can sue for damages.

Conducting a Patent Search

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) allows you to search existing patents to make sure your invention or a similar one does not already exist. To be patentable, an idea must be unique and solve a specific problem. If prior art duplicates your idea, you'll need to modify it enough to be distinguishable or go back to the drawing board.

At this point, you can begin the patent process by filing a patent application with the USPTO, which can be completed online. You'll need to submit a detailed description of your creation, which includes drawings and will be publicly disclosed if patent protection is granted.

Although documenting your invention is important, the USPTO uses a first-to-file system when determining who is the rightful owner of an invention. That means the first person to file a patent is typically granted ownership. However, documenting the process of developing your invention is important because it creates a paper or electronic trail that establishes you as the owner with the court if a third party accuses you of copying his or her invention.

Fundraising

Filing a patent for an invention costs money. You'll also be facing the costs of building prototypes, hiring consultants such as a patent attorney or industrial designer, and other marketing and manufacturing costs. You can apply for a small business loan, seek donations from family and friends, or pitch your idea to potential investors (after they sign a non-disclosure agreement, of course).

Creating a Prototype

Once you've come up with a patentable idea, it's time to fine-tune it through building and testing. This may include the following actions:

  • Develop working drawings that show your invention from several different perspectives. These should be to scale and also note the actual dimensions.
  • Consider materials to use for your invention, including those you might already have that could work for a prototype
  • Build and experiment with a prototype. During this phase, you'll also test the materials you have in mind and create industrial design sketches.
  • Depending on the materials that work best with your prototype, you can begin to think about manufacturing and pricing the invention.
  • Name your invention something memorable.

Marketing Your Invention

Once your patent application has been filed, the status of your invention is patent pending. At this stage, you can decide whether you will manufacture your invention yourself or license rights to produce it to a third party. This sells your patent rights to the company in exchange for royalty payments, typically a percentage of sales. You can also determine whether you'll be responsible for branding and marketing or plan to hire a firm to do so. This involves creating an attractive advertising package and marketing your invention to potential licensees and consumers.

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