How to Patent an Idea
Patenting an idea is not difficult. All you is need is a good patent attorney and a wallet full of cash.
The real challenge is patenting an idea that is profitable.
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, more than 8.5 million patents have been issued. That is a lot of invention ideas!
But very few of them ever make any money. In fact, it’s generally estimated that a mere 3% of patented ideas recoup their filing costs. In other words, the vast majority of patents don’t even pay for themselves. And unfortunately, obtaining a patent is expensive—anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000.
This phenomenon doesn’t make any sense. Why are inventors filing patents on inventions that never make any money? In our opinion, it’s because most invention ideas are patented without proof that there is consumer demand for the product and that it can be manufactured at a competitive price point. We cannot tell you how many patents we have seen that do not include any mention of manufacturing. This is foolish, because products are only ever manufactured when they are capable of meeting the price point set by the industry.
Inventors are applying for patents because they fear that someone may steal their idea. This fear is real, but unfounded. They are motivated by their fear of the unknown.
Thankfully, inventors have another option: Provisional patent applications, or PPAs. A provisional patent application protects your idea for up to one year and allows you to label your idea as "patent pending." PPAs are fantastic tools for inventors who are just starting to figure out if they have a profitable idea on their hands. For one, they’re inexpensive, unlike patents. The USPTO’s filing fee is a mere $65. And with a little help, we think independent inventors are capable of writing them themselves.
Inventors should use the 12 months of protection afforded to them to shop around their idea. Is there any interest? Does the idea have market potential? If after one year you discover that yes, there is demand for your idea and it can be manufactured at a reasonable price point, you can file a non-provisional patent application.
Unfortunately, most inventors bypass this critical step. They hire a patent attorney and begin the process of filing for a patent. This process is easy: You will find an attorney via referral. You will tell him about your idea. He will ask you a few basic questions, like if you have a prototype or drawing of your idea. He will explain that the process will take time and of course, money. Most likely, he will tell you that easy ideas cost between $4,000 and $5,000. More complex ideas could cost as much as $7,000. But many attorneys won’t mention that there will be additional costs, including filing fees, the time and money it will take to respond to office actions, maintenance fees, and potential extension fees. In other words, they won’t tell you how high the actual cost of obtaining a patent is. These fees can easily add up $25,000. And even then, there is no guarantee that you will receive a patent—let alone a patent that has value.
Patent attorneys don’t have a lot of incentive to promote provisional patent applications. They will say that it takes just as much time and money to write a PPA as it does a non-provisional patent application. You will feel overwhelmed and pressured by this. After all, isn’t the attorney your friend? Doesn’t he have your best interests in mind?
It’s not that simple.
The question he isn’t asking, because it’s not his job to, is if the invention idea is actually marketable. Is it going to make you money?
Please, if you’re thinking about intellectual property protection, do the following steps first.
1. Read as much as you can about PPAs. The USPTO’s website has great information. They also have excellent customer service.
2. Do a Google product search. Is your idea truly new? Does it have a point of difference? Don’t be alarmed if you find a similar product, because that’s actually a good thing. Now you know that a market for your product invention exists. What you are trying to determine is how your product sets itself apart from others.
3. Do a prior art search. First, search using Google patents. (You can also use the USPTO’s search function, but it is more difficult.) Try to find ideas that are similar to yours. We think this is fun, because you can also hire someone to do it for you. However, it is possible to become a pro at searching for prior art pretty quickly. Again, don’t be alarmed when you find ideas that are similar to yours. Trust us, you will find them. Finding similar ideas does not mean your invention cannot be patented. Start reading the patents’ claims closely. How is yours different? What you discover in the prior art is very telling. It will give you a roadmap of what to do next. If you find too many ideas that are similar to yours, then the field may be too crowded. Hooray! You’ve just saved yourself $20,000.
If your idea still has a point of difference and uniqueness after you have done this research, then you should file a provisional patent application for $65. Your invention is now protected as patent pending for one year.
Start showing the invention to potential licensees. Do they like it?
If you find a company that wants to license your invention from you, you can negotiate with them to have them pay for your patents. And as a result, you’ll have saved yourself thousands of dollars.
I hope this information has been helpful and saves you time, money, and pain.