Grandpa loved admiring our crayon drawings, exemplary grade cards and framed photos. But the piece de resistance was a copy of the official patent certificate for our Battery Buddy product invention.
As young adults, it was particularly rewarding to hold this top spot on his “proud grandfather” wall, but the best part about obtaining our patent was that it gave us the protection we needed to defend ourselves against business competition and to establish credibility with the big corporations.
Just as we successfully waded through the process of getting a patent, if you want to be able to protect your intellectual property assets, claim ownership, and possibly license and receive royalties on your product innovation, you should consider sorting out how to patent a product idea or invention. “A patent is a legal document that is granted to the first person to invent a particular invention” states Nicholas Godici, former Commissioner of Patents at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). “It allows them to exclude others from making, using or selling the invention that’s described in the patent for a period of twenty years from the date that they first filed the application.”
If you determine that applying for a patent is the right move for you, here are a few key points to keep in mind.
- Go with the patent pros
While the patent system was designed for you to file a patent on your own, we highly encourage you to hire an experience patent attorney to help you construct and file the patent. Take it from Bill Abbatt, an experienced intellectual property attorney at Brooks & Kushman, P.C. “The claims of a patent are very precisely written; you’ve got to do them right, and do them right the first time,” he states. “Otherwise, you could have an invalid patent. There could be a significant delay in time before your patent issues, and it may jeopardize the probability that it ever issues.”
- Can’t afford a patent attorney?
Attorney fees can be expensive, so if you’re tight on funds, try this: fold your patentable idea into a business plan and seek investors who would support your business concept. Explain how you can start a business and grow it substantially around your patent or a potential license in the future. To provide incentive, give them options. Offer them equity in the new business or a direct percentage of the royalties you will gain from successfully licensing the innovation. They take risk by helping you pay for the patent now, but they get to participate in the potential upside as well.
- Provisionally speaking
It’s also possible to file a less expensive provisional patent application, which allows you to establish a filing date and take up to one year to file a full formal patent. But be aware that bare bones provisional patents can come back to bite you later. You might find yourself limited or locked-in to what you describe in the provisional patent, even though you’ve come up with additional improvements during your year-long provisional period. If you go this route, we highly recommend that you at least include legitimate “claims,” a key part of a formal patent.
- Be discreet on the street about your patent
After filing a patent application, you can legally use the term “patent-pending” or “patent-applied” and move forward with your business plan. However, you still need to be discreet when disclosing information about your invention during this phase. Only share certain aspects with the necessary people, without revealing the entire invention, and have these individuals sign a non-disclosure agreement for added protection whenever possible.
- Be patient
Keep in mind that it may take up to two years or more to receive your patent certificate, and it’s really just the first step to business success. But don’t be deterred. Believe it or not, the odds are fairly good that your application will be approved. In 2006, the last year the USPTO officially issued patent counts, approximately 54% of all U.S. patent applications were approved. USPTO statistics show that a substantial portion of the patents, about 15%, go to individual inventors.
Remember, this isn’t just about making Grandpa proud. After all, what other legal way do you know of that allows you to prevent competition from occurring? So when you’re wondering how to patent an idea and whether you should take the time to file an application, remember, this is a unique opportunity for you to create a monopoly, and it’s not only okay with Uncle Sam, it’s encouraged by him!