Patents, Prototypes, Manufacturing, and Marketing New Inventions
How to Patent an Invention
I'm often asked how one can patent an invention on ones own, keeping it as cheap as possible.
It's certainly possible to file your own patent application and patent an invention on your own, and it would save you a ton of money.
However, if your new invention idea is worth obtaining a patent for, then unless your situation is highly unusual you really need a patent attorney.
A good patent can be worth many millions of dollars. For an example just take a look at Lego. Until Lego's patent ran out it was king of the building type toys. As soon as the patent ran out many very similar products have sprung up, but Lego has built up such a brand name that knock-offs won't threaten its position in the market place. That was a good example of an enforceable utility patent.
Often times a patent can be a complete waste of time and money. For example, Metlund and RedyTemp both have patents and yet do the same thing (RedyTemp can be run in a demand mode). Two very similar systems both doing the same thing in the same way and yet both are patented. Along comes the Chilipepper which is virtually identical to the Metlund system, and doesn't infringe either of those two other patents.
It actually surprised me when I got the Metlund patent because there was such an abundance of prior art which had expired long ago. Our patent attorney figures some obscure angle and managed to secure a patent, but it has no teeth.
After inventing the Chilipepper I didn't even attempt to patent anything about it because there was just no point. It wouldn't stop anyone from copying it anyway.
Once you have determined that your new invention idea is indeed worth patenting, which means you believe you can patent it, it can be manufactured, and it can be marketed, only then should your pursue a patent. If you don't have all three don't waste your money.
How to patent invention
Let's begin with the patent search.
When you apply for a patent for your invention to the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) they will do a world-wide patent search. If you search only the US patent database there is a very good chance your patent will be denied due to a patent filed in a foreign country. I have experienced this very thing.
But even searching the US database is a real challenge. Patent examiners use what the patent office calls a classification system for searching the patent database. Picking the wrong class for your search will render your search useless.
Going through your patent attorney to have a patent search performed will cost you about $500, and you can have confidence in the results.
Patent search results can alert you to both existing patents that may interefer with your patenting plans, and potential other ways of doing things and improvements you might be able to make in your invention.
The patent goes to the first one to "Think" of the idea.
The first one to think of a new patentable idea is the one who has the patent rights to that invention here in the United States. In most foreign countries it's the first one to file a patent that gets the rights. As long as you follow a few simple rules set forth by the patent office your idea will be protected even if someone else files before you do. Rules like not letting one year elapse without doing some kind of development work on it. A year without working on it and the USPTO will consider it "abandoned".
Another rule, do not disclose your idea to the public, like in a magazine article, newspaper article or on a website. If you do it begins a 1 year countdown during which you must file your patent application.
Whatever you do, documentation is imperative. Some day if there is a dispute over the validity of your patent it will end up in a court room. Your documentation will be your evidence. Be thorough. Doing a patent search is rock solid documented evidence that you thought of your invention by at least the date you had the search done.
If you go for a year without doing anything about your idea the patent office will consider the idea abandoned and you loose your thought of date. So again, have evidence that would hold up in a courtroom showing that you never let an entire year pass by without working on your new invention. Keep receipts and notes and whatever you need to clearly show that you never abandoned your invention.
A provisional patent might be the way to go
If you haven't tried prototyping and or doing some development work on the idea, you might want to consider going with a provisional patent. With a provisional patent you can file for the patent before you have it all figured out, and when you get it figured out you can then make changes to the patent. The patent term will remain 20 years from the original filing date.
My advice for someone who wants to know how to patent an invention is to first figure out if you really need a patent, then do a patent search, and finally file for a provisional patent. Most importantly obtain a good patent attorney perhaps with patent litigation experience.
How much does a patent cost?
Patent costs run about $4,000 - $5,000 for a simple utility patent, but can be much more for complex high-tech invention ideas.
In my experience it generally takes 2 or 3 years to get a patent. This spreads the cost of the patent out over the several years, depending on the arrangements you make with your patent attorney.
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