Don't Make This Mistake!
Do you remember the first video arcade game ever, Pong? Invented by Atari, the game was a cultural phenomenon. And even more than that, Atari had that all-important business factor: The first mover's advantage. As such, the company should today be in the same league as the X Box, Wii, and Playstation, but is not.
Why is that? There are many reasons, but one main one is this: Atari waited too long to get a patent, and by the time they did, there were already knockoff Pong games on the market.
If he didn't have a patent, no one would have ever heard of him because his genius idea would have been stolen.
Similarly, Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome, once said that if he didn't have a fool-proof patent, no one would have ever heard of him because his genius idea would have been stolen. It was a patent that made all of the difference.
The same is true for you: If you are an inventor, or a small business person, or are self-employed, and you want to protect your intellectual property, your invention, then there really is only one way to do that: You must get a patent. A patent protects your invention and it gives you exclusivity.
Here's the deal: If you invent or discover a new and useful “process, machine, manufacture, or composition thereof” you can apply for a federal patent to protect your invention from being used by others without your permission.
There are three basic types of patents:
- Utility patents protect machines and industrial processes and last for 20 years.
- Design patents protect designs of manufactured items and last for 14 years.
- Plant design patents (rare) protect new plant varieties and last for 20 years
How do you get a patent? There are three basic steps to the process:
1. Research. The first thing to do is to go to the website for the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) – www.uspto.gov. There, you can do a quick search to see if there are any other exact inventions, in which case, do not pass Go and do not collect $200.
However, if there are similar patents out there, it may be that yours is different enough to still be patentable. Only a patent lawyer could tell you for sure. Expect to easily spend a few thousand dollars to have a patent lawyer research your invention and its protectability.
2. Submit a patent application: Once you have decided that your invention is unique enough to warrant a patent, you need to hire an attorney to draft and file a patent application. Although there are many facets of what is known as Intellectual Property law that can be done without the aid of attorney (trademark applications for example and copyrights), patents typically are complicated enough that expert legal help is required.
Getting the application in order and filed may take the lawyer as long as six months and cost you $50,000, or it may be six weeks and $2,500 – it all depends upon the complexity of the job. A patent application usually consists of
- The background of the invention and why your invention, even if similar to others, is unique
- A summary of the invention and explanation of how how the invention fills a need
- A detailed description of the “embodiments” of the invention (examples of the invention)
- Drawings of the invention
- A set of claims, i.e., the scope of the requested patent
- An abstract which is a a brief description of the invention
Current fees are $540 for search, examination, analysis, etc.
After you file your application, it will take between six months to two years before you hear from the USPTO. Don't be discouraged if your application is rejected, as that often happens. Your lawyer will go back and explain to the patent office why their decision is wrong and should be reversed. Claims are usually rejected because
- The language in the application was too vague
- The description of the invention was insufficient
- The invention is not unique enough
3. File amendments if necessary: An amendment to your application may be necessary, or even a few amendments. After you file your amendments, you will either receive an approval, or a “final rejection” (only in the government is a “final rejection” not final and actually appealable.) If you receive an acceptance, or what is known as a “patent allowance”, you will need to pay an issuance fee, which is currently $755. Other additional fees are required every few years.
Although this is a cumbersome and fairly expensive process, if you have in fact invented something unique, you need to protect it by obtaining a patent.
And finally, if you do get that patent, remember that there is no ‘patent police.' Enforcing a patent is usually an equally time-consuming and expensive venture.
(photo credit: Time Magazine.}