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How to License an Idea Without a Patent

patentsStephen Key's article - In Today's Market, Do Patents Even Matter?

You share your idea with a friend and he or she says “You’d better get a patent on that”.

You watch Shark Tank and come away thinking you need a patent to sell your product.

You go to a meeting of your local inventors group and speak with several people, including patent attorneys, who encourage you to file for a patent before you do anything else.

I simply do not agree.

What is real today is that licensing deals are done all the time without any patents whatsoever.  Products hit the shelves, inventors make money, and there are no patents involved.

99.9% of inventRight students who license their products don’t have a patent.

What?  How can this be?

First of all, make sure to do the research.  97% of all patents do not become commercialized products nor do they recoup the cost it took to get them granted.

The majority of simple consumer products that are sold in places like pet stores, toy stores, home goods stores, and hardware stores are not patented items.

And, the plain truth is that patents cannot stop knock-offs.  If Apple, with its 2000 plus patents on the iPhone, can’t stop Samsung then how can you expect your one patent will stop someone from copying your idea?  A successful product will be copied and appear on Amazon or Alibaba within days of its launch. Read an article I wrote here about copycats.

The typical consumer product has a life cycle of just 3-4 years.  That’s shorter than the time it takes the average patent to get issued.

And, to add another dose of reality –let’s say you DO have a patented product and someone infringes on your patent.  Do you have a few million dollars?  That’s what it takes these days to take someone to court. (I know, I sued LEGO in the late 80’s for patent infringement).  And with the new patent law, which is “First to File”, you could get stuck in PTAB (Patent Trial and Appeal Board), which is another can of worms entirely.

My takeaway?  You don’t need a patent to license your idea for the majority of consumer products.

OK, then. What do you need?

I teach my students at inventRight to file well written a provisional patent application (PPA) to establish what I call “perceived ownership”.  That’s it.  That’s all you need for most licensing deals. A PPA offers you 12 months during which you can offer your product for sale using the words “patent pending”.  That’s it.  It’s that simple.

If your PPA is written correctly it will provide your licensee with the option to protect it going forward with additional IP.  And, it helps reduce fear and uncertainty about ownership for both parties.

At inventRight, we are experts at writing PPA’s that have value.  We have developed, together with patent attorney Gene Quinn, SmartIP, which is a program that walks you through the steps to do it yourself.

If you prefer, you can hire a patent agent or a patent attorney to write your PPA.  That will probably cost you in the neighborhood of $1500 - $3000.  And, unless you provide the person you hire with a lot of information, the results won’t be that great.

You need to do all the homework yourself.  You need to become the expert on your product, the category in which it will compete, other products, your point of difference, possible materials and manufacturing methods that might be used for your product, and a myriad of other details.  If you don’t know all of these things, then your PPA won’t have the value it needs.  It won’t contain language that helps prevent work-arounds or copycats.  So, if you do all the work to learn about all of these things, why not take the final step and write the PPA yourself?  Explaining all of this to your patent agent will require a lot of time (which equals money) and you certainly can’t expect them to do all this work themselves.

To help you with all of this, I wrote a book “How to Sell Your Idea With or Without a Patent.”

And, I am happy to say, that many patent attorneys are asking their clients to read this book before they get started.

It’s practical. It’s written in plain language.  It helps simplify a complex topic. It gives you the guidance to write a well-written PPA that has licensing value.  It provides sample PPA’s for you to review.  I took all of my 30 years of experience and put it in a book.

If you want to license your product ideas without spending the time and money to get a patent (which I believe is unnecessary) then you should buy this book.  After you read it, invest in SmartIP, and write your PPA.  Your cost? Under $200.  Your return?  The perceived ownership of your product idea that will allow you to approach potential licensees with the words “Patent Pending” and confidence that you are the expert.

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