Patent My Idea: Everything You Need to Know
Though advertisements may tell you otherwise, you can’t just patent protect a single idea. 9 min read
Patent My Idea
Though advertisements may tell you otherwise, you can’t just patent protect a single idea. Basically, if you’re able to verbally describe your invented idea with thoroughness, you likely have an invention or the beginnings of one.
Protecting an Idea with a patent
Once you’ve reached the threshold where your idea has become the beginnings of an invention, then you’ve got something on your hands that can and should be protected by a patent.
Mature Idea leads towards Invention
Firstly, you’ll need to be ready to explain how to make and utilize this new invention. That way, it’s possible to replicate your invention by following the description you outlined in your application for a patent. Patent applications don’t require a blueprint’s level of detail, but it should function as a teachable tool for skilled individuals in your field, should they take on the task of carrying out your invention. Likewise, you don’t necessarily need to have a completed prototype, though you’ll need to be able to describe your invention in detail and provide some sketches that demonstrate your contribution.
If you can’t illustrate it on your own, you can hire a patent illustrator to create drawings. 3D imaging is the ideal way to document your invention in an eye-catching yet immersive way, especially if you’re looking to lure funding or licensees. Transforming a great idea into a patent-worthy invention can be a straightforward process with the right tools and guidance.
Legal Status of an Idea
Sadly, if you’re swamped in the stage of idea-making within the inventing process, you’re probably not ready to submit an application for a patent. That said, you shouldn’t start spreading the news of your idea yet either, as a company might catch wind of it.
Most companies don’t take submission ideas because an idea isn’t protected by law and are left open for the taking by others. The companies that do accept ideas for submission will likely disclose that they’ll be reserving the right to use your idea without paying you for it. In other words, be very careful about submitting your own invention ideas if you forgo the expertise of a licensing professional.
Confidentiality Agreement for Idea
Let’s say that you tell some corporation or company about your inventive idea. Down the road, that company tries to make that very same idea come to life. Oftentimes, people believe that company stole their ideas. However, most companies have lots of research and development practices ongoing at all times, so it’s actually more realistic that the idea you thought was yours overlapped with something that they were already in the process of developing. Most companies won’t accept idea submissions, but they may take submissions of inventions that already have a patent that’s pending. If a company will simply listen to your idea, sans patent, you should be sure that they’re trustworthy beforehand, or else legal drama may ensue.
As you become more informed, you’ll become a better inventor, too. This will allow you to provide key counsel to your team, as well. There are some practical steps necessary to transform your idea into an invention worth patenting.
Filing a Patent Without an Attorney
Countless inventors have made their way through the patent system without the help of attorney. It’s worth noting that federal law ensures that patent examiners at the USPTO (the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) assist inventors applying for patents without a patent attorney’s help.
Keep a Careful Record of Your Invention
Document each step in the process of invention. Use detailed descriptions and diagrams as you document and journal all the features and adjustments made to your invention, such as your conception process leading up to the idea. Depending on the scope of your invention, you might want to assemble and test out some kind of prototype. For each entry you create, sign and date it in your journal, then ask that two reliable colleagues sign off on it, too.
Make Sure Your Invention Qualifies for Patent Protection
Because you can’t obtain a patent by simply possessing an idea, you have to be able to demonstrate your invention, how it works, and why it is new to the game. It must display some relevant difference between what’s already come before it. Before you file a patent application, your invention must not be for sale, or be well known to the public.
Assess the Commercial Potential of Your Invention
When you decide to apply for a patent, it’s all about business. Though you might not make use of a patent lawyer or incorporate professional patent drawings, the costs of a patent application still amount to about $1500 in fees from the USPTO alone. That means you should think long and hard before you put in the resources and time required to obtain a patent. Dig deep into the market you’re hoping to enter and then decide how worthwhile a patent would be.
Thorough Patent Search
To ensure that this invention worth patenting is truly new, you’ll need to search out all the previous developments in that field. Determining whether this invention is new will require you to search the U.S.’s trove of patent, and sometimes even the foreign listings of patents. This means publications such as scientific trade and technical journals are a good place to discover any inadvertently related inventions similar to your own.
Searching for existing patents doesn’t have to be time intensive, and with a little practice you can get a good handle on the process. Should you decide to enlist the help of a pro sometime down the road, you’ll still be the person who knows the most about your own invention and idea.
Start patent researching online, or begin by visiting the Patent and Trademark Depository Library. There, you can dig through previous patents and enjoy professional help from the librarian. For more information, see Patent Searching Online. When you complete a search for an existing patent, you’ll definitely uncover earlier inventions that bear a resemblance to yours. Note in your application how your invention will improve on or alternates from the earlier models of this invention.
Provisional patent application (PPA)
When you file a patent application at the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office, you can file what’s called a regular patent application (RPA) or you can file an alternative, called a provisional patent application (PPA). While a PPA isn’t actually an application for the patent itself, filing for a PPA does allow you to claim the coveted patent-pending status for your invention. It requires only a marginal portion of the work and related cost of the regular patent application (RPA).
When you file a PPA, all you need to do is pay a $65 fee for micro-entities, or a $130 fee for small entities, or a $260 for large businesses. You’ll also need to submit a deep description of your invention, telling users how to make it and how to utilizes, along with a rudimentary drawing.
When you file a regular patent application, called an RPA, you formally begin the examination process at the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office that’s required to obtain a real patent.
An invention in patent
Now that you’ve made an invention that will change the globe, what’s the next step? The USPTO delivers patents for inventions that are both useful and distinct. Though the patent application process can be lengthy and complex, it’s far easier when you know how to go about it on your own.
Defining Your Idea and Understanding Patents
In order to make refinements to your invention and then apply for patent protection, begin by writing down your masterful idea. By simply writing your idea out longhand, you’ll be forced to define your invention and think about its moving parts. These written documents will also bolster your case for a patent as you wage the application process. Patents are applied or in your name, though you can stage an application in conjunction with a partner or as part of a group of researchers.
There are three major types of patents: a utility patent, a plant patent, and a design patent. Each are given for varying types of inventions. You can obtain a utility patent for an invented process, a machine, articles of manufacturing, or composition of matter (for instance, a drug), or for any improvement made upon an existing product.
If you apply for some other kind of patent, it can be for some kind of ornamental design element, or an asexual plant variety. What’s more, your invention has to demonstrate a utility for the utilization of society. Your invention can’t be offensive to the public’s morality. Lastly, your invention must be new, not overwhelmingly obvious, and well-described in clear and definitive language.
There exist plenty of ideas and products made by people that can’t be patented, even if they can be protected in other ways—like copyrighting. You can’t patent the following:
- The laws of nature
- Any sort of physical phenomena
- Ideas that are abstract in nature, or are to be used in a literary, drama-based, music-based, or artistic sense. Instead, you’ll use a copyright.
A utility patent application must demonstrate that you invented product is specific and has a clear-cut definitive benefit to the greater good. Many inventions are filed in the utility patent designation. Patent protections offered under an obtained utility patent last for twenty years, beginning from the day the it was granted.
Applying for a design-based patent is for a new invention that has an improved design element for an existing product have an invention for a new, improved design on an existing product. A design patent endures fourteen years starting from the date of its original application. Patents for plants are for developing new varieties of plants that are asexual reproducing. Protections for these plant patents go on for twenty years, beginning on the patent application date.
Conducting a Patent Search
Get in touch with the nearest Patent and Trademark Depository Library and talk to a search expert. Searching for a patent isn’t an easy process, as it necessitates the use of distinct keywords and the search of many databases, sometimes stretching back centuries.
If you live in D.C. area, you’ll be able to visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Search Facilities, which are housed in Alexandria, Virginia. Get help from a registered patent lawyer or professional who can assist you in completing your patent search. Patent experts are equipped to operate the complex patent system with efficiency, readily discovering whether your product is already patented.
You can try conducting a patent search on the internet, too. In many instances, when you complete a patent search in real-time, it can take up to thirty hours. It’s your job to imagine the innumerable ways one could describe this invention, then you’ll compile a list of these keywords having to do with: what your invention does, who might your invention affect, what sort of issues or problem might your invention resolve, and questions such as those. If you have a list ready to go, you’ll be able to decide how to approach the online database.
You can look up more terms in the USPTO online database and then you’ll select the category, subcategories that best match your description. Find the classification codes readable at the right of the subcategory name you selected. Determine a subclass number, then search through its subclasses to find similar categories. Eye the subclasses that are displayed near your subclass, not the ones that are simply nearby in number.
Some subclasses were divided and put into smaller subclasses, so they’ve been moved around and may out of order. Note: the dots on the left of the subclass titles tell you about specificity. The more dots there are, the higher in specificity a subclass will be. These dot numbers go from 0 to 7. You should select the best subclass number.
Then, you’ll select the red P icon located left of the subclass number. Here, the most recent patents will be located at the top of the page. Go through the entirety of these patents, which will help you make sure your invention isn’t already taken. You can select and view an individual patent when you click on its number, which is situated to the left of its title.
If a patent was issued after the year 1976, then you can view its entire text digitally, or else you’ll have to use the TIFF viewer for patents prior to that. Take a look at all the drawings and the claims sections for every patent, which will help you discover similarities or contrasts amongst your invention and others. Document these references and complete a keyword search if you’re not sure how to find a proper subclass.
If you need help learning how to patent your idea, 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.