When you have a great idea that you want to protect you need to know how to get a patent. Most inventors think that a patent is the ultimate goal for an inventor. Unless inventing is your hobby, the ultimate goal should be to make money from your invention.
Patents are tools that can be used to achieve this goal. What most people don't realize is that 98% of all patents never become a commercial success. With that in mind understand that patents are important and can mean the difference between a huge success or a knocked off product.
The inability to get a patent should not deter your from pursuing your invention. Just as 98% of all patents do not make any money, 98% percent of all products that do are not patented. Patents are valuable. They have made me a lot of money over the years but they are not a necessity for making money from your product.
How to get a patent
The recommended approach for inventors who want to get a patent is to follow the three steps below:
Step 1: The Patent Search
Always do a patent search on your idea as part of the Evaluation phase of the invention process. A patent search is useful for several reasons including:
Step 2: Provisional Patents
A provisional patent is an application for patent in the US patent system that does not automatically become an issued patent.
There are several benefits of filing a provisional patent including:
I use the provisional patent system to formally document my inventions at the US patent office and as a placeholder for my invention. One important thing to note about provisional patents is that they expire after 1 year if not converted into a "Utility patent".
This gives you the opportunity to explore your idea, look for companies to license your idea or gain additional feedback before committing the money to file a utility patent.
Provisional patents are patent applications that consist of a specification (description) and optional drawings. What is not required with a provisional patent is the claims of your invention that are necessary for a utility patent.
I consider provisional patents a very effective and valuable tool for individual inventors because they offer flexibility and protection during the research phase of invention.
Step 3: Utility Patents
When most inventors consider getting a patent, what they really want is the protection of a utility patent. This protection grants the exclusive right to prevent others from making, using, selling our offering for sale what is covered by the claims in the patent. This right can also be licensed or sold to other companies. Utility patent protection lasts for 20 years from the priority date of the patent.
A utility patent is comprised of a specification, drawings and claims. The specification is a description of the invention in enough detail that someone who is skilled in the area of your invention could recreated it. Patent drawings are used to show all of he important components of the invention. Each component is typically called out on the drawings and referenced in the specification.
The final component of a utility patent is the claims. The claims define, in technical terms, what is protected by the patent.
If you are trying to determine how to get a patent there are a few possibilities. It is possible to do all of the steps above yourself. Personally I have done dozens of patent searches, written and filed several provisional and utility patents, and created dozens of patent drawings.
What I recommend for most inventors is to do a preliminary patent search themselves looking for obvious reasons you will not be able to get a patent, many times your invention will not be patentable. Most inventors should be able to file a provisional patent themselves as well. When you are ready to file for a utility patent always get a professional patent search and opinion first. If you feel like you can write your own patent I always recommend using a patent attorney or patent agent to help write the claims and submit the patent.
There is one more class of patent that is important to consider as an inventor, design patents. Design patents protect the ornamental appearance of a product. Although design patents do not always get a lot of respect they are still valuable in their own right if used properly.
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