So you have a great idea, now what?
By April Price
I get a number of calls from potential clients excited about an idea they have. They often have many of the same questions about the process of getting a patent, and this blog post will try to answer some of those questions. The first thing almost every patent attorney will tell you is that ideas are not patentable, but inventions are. What’s the difference? An idea is the “wouldn’t it be great if” stage. An invention is the solution that satisfies the “wouldn’t it be great if” question. If you have the solution, I recommend that you spend some time on the USPTO.gov website. Their website has a lot of great information for inventors and entrepreneurs including information about patents and the patent examination process.
“I have searched the internet and haven’t found my invention, but how can I be sure it hasn’t already been invented”
Doing a Google search is a great first step, but your patent attorney may want to do a search of the Patent Office records also. Patents are classified according to a classification scheme based on characteristics of the invention which can help guide the patent attorney to the correct classification for searching. In the Quad Cities, we are especially lucky because the Davenport Public Library is the Iowa Patent and Trademark Resource Center. This means that the staff at the library has access to the same database that patent examiners use when searching for inventions and they have been trained to search using the same methodology that the examiners use. One easy way to save money on patent searching is to make an appointment with the library staff and utilize their searching skills. Be sure to keep copies of anything you find that is similar to or relevant to your invention because the Patent Office requires that you disclose that information to them.
“I need to explain my invention to someone so they can help me make the prototype, how can I be sure they won’t steal my idea”
It is best to keep your invention a secret at least until you get your patent application on file. There may be times, however, when you have to disclose your invention to someone whose services you need. If that is necessary, have them sign a confidentiality agreement, typically called a non-disclosure agreement and disclose only the information necessary for their services. It’s almost always a good idea, even after you have filed your patent application, to have others sign a non-disclosure agreement when providing them information about your idea or invention.
“When should I file my patent application?”
Get your patent application on file as soon as possible. The U.S. used to have a first-to-invent patent system which meant that even if someone filed their patent application before you, so long as you could prove that you invented it before them, the patent would be awarded to you. That system was replaced with a first-to-file system so now the patent would be awarded to the first person to file their application.
“How much does it cost?”
There are a lot of variables that go into the cost of filing and pursuing a patent. The fees charged by the Patent Office vary depending on whether you are an individual or company (they reduce fees for individuals and small companies). The largest cost in the patent process, however, is not the fees for the Patent Office, but is instead the fees for the patent attorney. Patent attorneys spend time learning about your invention and then translating that into a detailed patent application that meets the requirements of the patent office. After the application is filed, there will generally be some back-and-forth with the patent office which also requires the time and attention of your patent attorney. All this will hopefully lead to the granting of a patent. The total cost for the entire process of a non-provisional utility patent (the technical name for a regular patent) which includes the patent office fees, usually ranges from $10,000-$20,000.
If you aren’t sure you want to commit that much money to your invention, you can file a provisional application. Typically, the filing of a provisional application ranges from $2000-$3000. However, a provisional patent application does not get examined and will not mature into a patent. A provisional patent application is simply a placeholder at the Patent office so if/when you file the non-provisional utility application, you can claim priority to your provisional application filing date. The non-provisional application must be filed within a year of your provisional application, but this gives you a year to see if your invention is worth the investment cost of a non-provisional application.
With the rise of shows like ‘Shark Tank,’ you may be inspired to turn your idea into an invention or start a company. I enjoy working with people who are passionate about their innovations, especially because I have the opportunity to help them take the steps necessary to move their innovations forward. Just for fun, I’ve included a link to the 15 biggest ‘Shark Tank’ success stories of all time at the end of this post. Of the fifteen listed, can you guess which ones have patents filed?
April Price is a patent attorney at Lane & Waterman LLP. Learn more about her work at https://www.l-wlaw.com/attorneys/april-a-price/.