Patent help can come in many forms ranging from do it yourself to full service patent lawyers. Each has advantages and trade offs. What kind of help you look for depends on what your goals are. Some ideas are very simple. Simple in concept and in use. These ideas are often low risk and need little investment. I wouldn't consider using a patent lawyer for a simple idea. I would pursue a lower cost approach.
Other ideas are complex. Engineering, design and complicated theory drive the invention. Many times these ideas offer the greatest reward as well.
Generally I choose the patent strategy based on the complexity and possible pay out of the idea. I use risk versus reward to determine how to proceed. If there is a lot on the line I want the best patent protection and representation I can afford. Many times this requires a patent lawyer but other times you can use less expensive patent help to file a patent.
With a simple or easy invention idea that is unlikely to be a home run I want to spend the least amount of money that I can get away with. In this case I grab my copy of Patent It Yourself and go to work. With simple ideas the best way to proceed is to do a patent search and file a provisional patent. Once a provisional patent is filed you can find a home for it in the marketplace without loosing any rights.
When I worked in the battery industry we dealt with very specialized chemistry, compounds and processes. We were trying to achieve an industry paradigm shift away from the developing chemistry of lithium ion and towards our zinc air chemistry that was being applied to new markets and devices.
Had we succeeded, which we didn't, we would have generated tens or hundreds of millions in sales. This was not the kind of work to leave to a patent novice. The companies patent portfolio was the backbone of it's worth. A few cheap patents with low quality claims would have resulted in a low company valuation. That being the case we did not go cheap on patent representation.
At the other end of the spectrum were low tech ideas that did not require a $300 per hour lawyer. Some of these patents I would write myself and others I would only research and file a provisional patent on. Ideas from this category have included simple painting products or anything not overly technical.
Most of the concepts that I work on these days fall in the middle. Not as complicated as a new zinc air battery cathode but not as simple as a new style of paintbrush either. Several good examples that fall in this category are toys. Most of the time patentable toys have a novel mechanism or application of a scientific principle. They are not overly complicated.
When I have an idea like this and I need patent help I will usually work with a patent agent. Patent agents are typically less expensive than lawyers and many times the quality of their work is just as good.
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