I am getting ready to make a prototype and I am interested in at what point in the process - I should look into a patent attorney?
It's good you're considering an attorney. I would suggest speaking with one asap especially if you plan on spending money on a prototype. And you do not need a prototype to meet with an attorney. The attorney will understand your concept. And many will meet with you for a free initial consultation and should be able to give you a pretty good ideal if it is worth moving forward. If you decide to move forward, have the attorney perform a patent search for you also.
Getting the patent filed is the easy part. Creating the marketing behind the product and getting it on the shelf is the hard part. That's where you need to spend the time, energy and money. It's all about the marketing!!!
It's a good idea to consult a patent attorney fairly early on, but you might be better off getting that prototype made first. You can do your own online research to find out if there are any current patents that might cover your idea, at the Patent and Trademark Office. Your best plan for getting your idea protected, though, is to get it to market! In my experience, an idea is just an idea until you do something with it. Even if you have it patented, if you aren't actively marketing or developing your idea, your patent protection is weak or non-existent.
A lot of new inventors think that if they tell anyone (including a prototype maker) about their idea, they will steal it. While there might be some unscrupulous people out there, people in the prototyping business aren't in the stealing ideas business. If you came to my shop with a great idea, it would be in my best interest to make your prototype quickly and accurately, so you can go get it to market. If I was going to steal your idea, it had better be the best idea EVER, because I will have ruined my reputation as an honest vendor. Word gets out quick. Just like any business, my reputation is key; without that, I can't get anyone in the door!
Good luck with your new venture!
Yep, Fletcher is right. In doing your primary market research with your prototype you will inevitably make changes to the product once you see it's "real world" application and use. If you get a provisional patent now, those changes will not be covered. Do ALL your marketing research and get that prototype some action before filing. Until then, use your NDA when talking to folks.
And drvag is right... actually inventing a product is easy... it's turing your invention into a viable and successful business that is the hard part!
Very best of Good luck to you on this crazy wonderful wild ride!
And Leslie is correct about provisional applications. Usually changes occur that will make the provisional useless. Not to mention, a novice doing what a competent attorney does after years of school.
If a person is lucky enough to have a great idea and it's making money, it will get noticed in the marketplace, and someone will knock it off. So is it better to defend a patent that someone did on their own with a provisional or one well written by a skilled attorney.
Spend the money on a patent attorney and also if you don't know how, creating and executing the marketing plan.