How to Patent Your Idea or Invention

By: Robert Bell | Posted: 08th December 2009

If you have a great, original idea that you believe people would pay for - a process, a product, an invention, a new use for an old device - then you need to take steps to protect it. The road from inspiration to patented invention is simple to explain, as in "Follow these steps right here," but that doesn't mean it is easy to do. The process can be time-consuming, costly and complex, so much so that most inventors wish someone would invent a new way of doing it. Until someone does, getting a patent is the way to go, and the only way that protects you (and the money you could earn from your "great leap forward").

If you don't get a patent, anyone can use anything you develop without paying you a cent. The very first thing you need to do, before you start filling out government forms - and definitely before you buy a new Cadillac based on your certainty of imminent riches - is to perform what is called "due diligence." In a nutshell, this means finding out what you're supposed to do, how you're supposed to do it, whether you really have something unique and valuable, and where to start. Your due diligence, therefore, starts with the next paragraph.

Start at the beginning
This seems obvious to say, but many people get way ahead of themselves. The first thing you need is totally honesty and candor, and the ability and willingness to listen to others' opinions. Is your idea or invention unique? Do you have something tangible that will result? Disembodied ideas with no practical expression in our three-dimensional world cannot be patented. You have to have an actual product, process or device, one that gets "arched eyebrow" reactions from people when you describe it. More people than your mom or spouse need to be fans.

If you do have a good idea, document exactly how you came up with it, draw it up as best you can, put it into an intelligible form and take all the materials to a Notary Public. In addition to writing down every detail and potential use you can think of, from how it works and how it's made to marketing strategies, you also need a short, clear, to-the-point "general concept" overview as your "introduction." You need these dated, notarized documents to combat any attempt to purloin your invention.

Searching and building
Before the Internet era, a patent search was a grueling, laborious, often confusing and horrendously time-consuming process. Today, with fast computers and online databases, it is a grueling, laborious, often confusing and not-quite-as-horrendously-time-consuming process. You need to see if there are similar inventions, and if there are, to discover if you can modify that existing product instead of starting from scratch. You can do a basic patent search at the U.S. PTO (Patent and Trademark Office) Web site, but full searches that reach 20 years back require additional time and trouble.

Your next task is to ensure that you have a proper working prototype, a working model that demonstrates the design, function and feasibility of your invention. If you have waited until now to do so, you have probably wasted time and effort. You should already have a working prototype by the time you are involving yourself with patent searches, since building the prototype helps you refine your design and reveals obstacles and challenges related to manufacturing, distribution, licensing and future sales. Make sure your prototype is a convincing one.

Okay, now you apply for the patent
When you have all your ducks in a row, you are ready to apply for your patent with the PTO. You can get protection for a limited time with a "provisional patent," which allows ongoing development and prevents your idea from being hijacked. Within a year of that filing, however, you need to file for a non-provisional patent. There are also "design patents" and "utility patents," and your idea could require special handling and submission of other supporting documents. If, after doing your own due diligence and research, you are still a bit confused about the process, this is completely understandable - and quite common, too.

If you are not quite sure about what kind of patent you need, or what some of the steps of the application process really require, you may need to do quite a bit of additional research. Allowing too much time to pass could result in someone else having the same idea and getting it patented first. You should probably protect yourself, and your future earnings, by consulting a good patent attorney. A sharp patent lawyer is a cost-effective insurance policy, and becomes a better deal the better your idea or invention is. If you've got "a winner" getting an attorney should actually be one of the first things you do.Bob Schuster is a leading intellectual property and commercial litigation lawyer. He has one millions for his clients and serves the entire US.
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Tags: money, paragraph, expression, nutshell, inspiration, honesty, mom, due diligence, notary public, invention, willingness, eyebrow, candor, great leap, inventors, cadillac