How to patent something
A patent can help bring your idea to life.
You should patent something to protect yourself and your invention for up to 20 years. If you have an idea that you want to produce and to turn real, a modern patent gives you the right and opportunity to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering for sale or importing the patented invention for their use and benefit without compensating you.
Patenting allows inventors to make money by selling a license to a company that will produce and market the product. Once a patent is issued, it is valid for 20 years from its earliest claimed filing date.
Types of Patents
There are three types of patents:
- Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter or any new and useful improvement thereof.
- Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.
- Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.
What Can Be Patented
Can anything be patented? No. Natural processes like laws of nature and physical phenomena can't be patented. Natural products like medicinal herbs are not protected by patent law. Abstract ideas like the Pythagorean Theorem also can't be patented.
You can patent almost anything you have created that meets three basic rules:
- Novelty or newness: Your invention has to be something original, not seen before, not patented and not described in a publication before.
- Non-obviousness or inventive step condition: This means that an expert in the field should not have thought about it before you did. Usually experts in an area exhaust all possibities. But if you see something that others missed, then you can patent it.
- Utility or industrial applicability: Your invention has to serve a purpose. That purpose can be profound or even silly. But under U.S. law, "a claimed invention is deemed useful if, at the time of filing, if it is capable of providing some identifiable benefit (to a person of ordinary skill in the art of the invention). The benefit must be specific, substantial, and practical." Toys can be patented, depending on the process used or what it is intended for. Not all patents are for serious things. There is no limit.
How to Get a Patent
You start by filing a provisional patent application, and then follow with a regular patent application within a year. It is a good idea to do a patent search with the U.S. Patent Office. Some ideas may already be patented, and your application will be denied. Other applications may be pending and are awaiting disposition. So if your idea is similar to one that is pending, you may withdraw your application or make modifications to your idea so that it is not similar to the pending one. But it is a good idea to consult with a patent expert. This is usually an attorney but it doesn't have to be.
To patent something you start with a provisional patent application which requires you to present a detailed description of the invention (what it is, how to make it, how to use it, etc.) and high-quality drawings with exact measurements and specific details. You also send in a $150 application fee.
A regular patent application follows your provisional application. This is more complex and usually requires the help of professional drafters to produce drawings and diagrams, an absolutely clear-cut written description of the invention and a claim that specifies how the invention is unique.