Is Your Idea Patentable? Find Out If You Are Patent Ready
Every invention begins with an idea.
More often than not, that idea fizzles out.
I remember many years ago I thought, "Why doesn't someone invent a mechanism that allows me to get all the mustard out of the squeeze bottle without opening it up and digging in with a butter knife?"
As I immediately jumped ahead and pondered the viability and commercial potential of such a device, I dismissed just as quickly when I realized I didn't know of an engineering company.
Little did I know there were services out there to connect me with companies like that and help me take the next step.
More importantly, I didn't know that finding an engineer wasn't the correct next step. The next step would have been to develop the idea and record and document everything.
Then I would look into how to file a patent.
When You Get To The Patent Application...
You do not necessarily need a lawyer to file a patent. A large percentage of inventors have successfully navigated the patent system on their own.
As a matter of fact, federal law directs patent examiners to assist individuals who apply for their patent without the help of a lawyer.
That doesn't mean you'll get immediate help, but it should give you a vote of confidence to step up to the plate.
What You Need To Be Patent Ready
The basics for one to qualify for a patent are quite simple.
First, you have to describe every aspect of the invention (remember just a couple sentences ago when I said "record and document everything?"... that comes in handy quickly).
You also need to ensure your invention idea qualifies for a patent. You qualify it by searching for existing patents and prior art.
It is recommended that each inventor carry out the procedure step-by-step to ensure they don’t forfeit their chance of earning a patent.
When you get to determining patentability, you'll use your documentation and patent search results to prove that your invention idea meets the following patentability criteria:
We'll dig further into this criteria shortly. But it's important to remember that the patent process is a not a legal affair, so no lawyer or patent attorney is required. Simply follow the process below, one by one.
Step 1: Maintain Clear Documentation And Records Of Your Invention Idea
Keep all of the processes of your invention noted in an inventors journal.
More specifically, you should document how you came up with your invention idea, every modification and iteration you've made to the invention, all the diagrams and descriptions of the invention ideas, and literally every passing thought you have about your idea (where to sell it, whom to sell it to, why it's different...on and on).
Sign/initial every change in your notebook, and meticulously record the dates with every change.
You may also have a witness sign for you; a notary is all the better. Ensure the witnesses are reliable since the publicity of the invention at such a time may cause mayhem.
Truth be told, the invention process hasn't fully migrated to traditional modern practices yet.
It's more along the lines of doing your taxes: There are generally older, redundant and slow steps involved in the process. (Seriously, on another note, why aren't we at the point where I can show up at a Jackson Hewitt, give my thumbprint, and my taxes are just 'done'?)
Step 2: Ensure Your Invention Idea Qualifies For Patent Protection
First note here: Your invention cannot be sold or publicized before applying for the patent. This is a big deal.
To qualify for a patent, your invention has to be a new (unique, "novel") one.
You have to prove the invention idea is unique from all other previous inventions and is in accordance with patent laws.
General information on patents, as well as the conditions on how to obtain a patent for your invention idea, all exist under patent laws.
As an inventor, if you discover a useful and original process, machine, improvement, or composition of matter... you win. You can apply for a patent.
But the laws are there as safeguards and everything you do and submit is subject to them.
When applying, you'll also have to show how it works - this is where your documentation will come in. Before applying, you should always have a prototype either ready (an initial version at least, or in the works).
A nuance in understanding if your invention qualifies for a patent
It's often asked by an inventor - or a potential inventor - if they can patent a process or idea for a new product that might not necessarily be new, but it hasn't previously been used (or known) by other people in the country and described or patented in a printed journal in one’s own (or foreign) country before it was discovered by the person applying for a patent.
OK, that is admittedly a mouthful.
What does it mean?
Basically, there are loopholes.
If you see something in a foreign country and it's a great idea for your country, and no one has brought it there yet or knows about it, then you can probably get a patent (of course you still have to take all the necessary steps).
Another catch here is that the invention (or idea for one) can not be described in a printed journal, or offered for sale or in public use in the country more than a year before the patent application. So you'll need to do some patent searching.
If you publish or pronounce the idea as your own, you'll want to file a patent within one year. If not you are essentially forfeiting the rights to your idea.
Step 3: Gauge The Commercial Potential Of Your Invention Idea
Of the low percentage of invention ideas that actually make it to market, only a slim few are profitable for the inventor.
That's a little scary to hear - but someone has to tell you.
Before you invest your cash and time in an invention idea, carry out a market survey and ascertain if it is worth the money and the efforts.
When the research on the potential market proves that the invention is viable, then you can go ahead and consider applying for the patent.
There are a number of different approaches to assessing the commercial value of your idea.
1. Cost approach: If you are familiar with "substitution", this should come inherent to you.
Broken down to simplest form, it means that an investor or funder will not pay anything beyond a substitute asset of equal use/utility costs. So, if you've developed an alternative to the latest mp3 player, make sure you have your homework and research in the cost and pricing market for the device; you won't be able to sneak one by an investor.
2. Market approach: Markets are competitive and that's what keeps things in control (yes, we can talk about monopolies and bad business, etc. - we all own a mobile phone, right? OK, I won't go there then, you already know).
Essentially, supply and demand dictate costs and prices, and it's been that way for a pretty long time.
If you've ever price-shopped (go into a store and compare a shelf item to something on a website on your phone, etc.) then you understand the principle. Basically you look to ascertain the value at which a similar item has exchanged from seller to buyer. There are specialized royalty rate repositories and databases available to search this information.
There are 2 other methods: The income approach, which estimates value of an idea or of intellectual property by estimating inflation and discounts, and the direct approach, which just uses current market value of intellectual property in an Intellectual Property Share Market.
Step 4: Carry Out A Vigorous Patent Search
I've talked at length about patent searches -- you can find all you need to know about patent searches here -- but for now, let's just make sure you realize they are a crucial step in the invention process.
Conducting an exhaustive patent search to find out everything you can about your invention ensures that your invention is, indeed, new and unique (and therefore patentable).
You'll want to research all the earlier inventions in your prospective industry or category to identify previous inventions that are in some way, shape or form similar to your invention.
The research may be a tiresome and time-consuming process but it is highly advisable. Many patent applications filed are not granted because the inventions have been published before.
It is sometimes recommended to hire a specialist to do the patent research for you.
However, it can have some serious drawbacks.
The owner of an invention is the best person to do this research since he/she is the only person who is truly comfortable with the invention and its many nuances and intricacies.
You can carry out the research from the internet or from a trademark depository library.
In your search you will realize there are other inventions that are similar to yours. This research should prompt you to adjust your invention by stating on the application how advanced it is from the previous versions or how it differs from the earlier inventions.
Step 5: Prepare And File Your Patent Application
The patent application includes the following:
In the United States, one can either file a regular patent application (RPA) or a provisional patent application (PPA).
A PPA is not technically a full patent application; it only involves a portion of your invention and allows you to claim a pending status of the patent. It is, however, very cost-effective. It gives you 12 months to work on your invention or prototype under some form of protection; you will have "patent pending" status.
A patent can be filled by mail or electronically. One can apply for a patent in the absence of a legal representative. If the application meets all the basic requirements, you will be granted your patent. Here are the ins-and-outs of filing the actual patent application.
If you need help with a specific step in the invention or patent process, reach out and let us know how we can help. Get started below.