Patenting Your Invention
As described on our page introducing patents, there are three different types of patents, utility (invention), design, and plant. This discussion is focused on utility patents.
While it is theoretically possible to file a patent on your own, it’s not generally recommended. While the basics of patent law are not that complicated, many years of court cases show that the very specific language used in the claims of the patent are very important to the value and enforceability of the patent.
An experienced patent attorney will know how to craft the patent so as to maximize the coverage and strength of the patent.
You’ll sometimes see ads proclaiming “Patent Your Idea!” There’s a major flaw with such ads: ideas aren’t patentable, only inventions are patentable.
An idea is at the heart of a patent, but that idea has to be converted into a particular way of implementing that idea to become patentable.
This is an area where how your patent application is crafted is important: you want to make it difficult for others to “design around” your patent — to accomplish the same thing without using your patent.
In addition to being “patentable subject matter,” (not an abstract idea, law of nature, etc.) your patent must be novel, non-obvious, and useful.
Be Careful about Disclosing Your Patent
Since ideas are not protected by patents, if you tell someone your idea, and he or she comes up with an invention based on your idea he or she can file a patent on that invention, and there’s nothing you can do.
Therefore, you want to be careful when talking about your idea with others. Once invention has been publicly disclosed you only have a year to file your patent.
It’s a good idea file a provisional patent application as soon as you’ve figured out exactly how your invention will work. A provisional patent application is much simpler and less costly than a full patent application, and it provides protection for your idea.
Once you have filed a provisional application you have a year to file a full application, and you can discuss your invention with others without having to worry that someone will steal your idea.
Working with a Patent Attorney
If you have decided to work with a patent attorney, there are things you can do to make the process simpler and less expensive. The more detailed the drawings and description you have of your invention the easier you make the job of the patent attorney.
It typically takes a few weeks or months to complete a full patent application, and it can take two to three years before the patent gets issued by the patent office.
Getting a patent on even a relatively simple invention can cost $5,000 to $10,000, so it’s also important to make sure your invention is worth spending the time and money.