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How To Patent

patent-ideaIf you’re reading this, you probably think you’ve come up with the next Pet Rock or an innovative way for manufacturing a widget and you want to get rich.  You’ve heard of a patent and that it is necessary to protect your invention, but you don’t have the slightest clue what to do next.  You need to know how to patent.  This article should help you decide what next steps should be taken.

Get Informed – What is a patent?

A patent is defined as the exclusive right granted by a government to an inventor to manufacture, use, or sell an invention for a certain number of years.  Typically a patent is protected for 20 years from the time the application for the patent was filed.  In the U.S., it is the United States Patent and Trade Office, otherwise known as the USPTO, who issues patents.  The USPTO is also the government entity that issues copyrights and trademarks.  Keep in mind that the filing process can take years to be fully approved.  It is also important that you understand what a patent is, and to find out whether you actually need one or would even qualify for one, before going through the costly patent application process.

Can I patent my idea?

While patents are granted on a case-by-case basis, there are some general requirements that an invention must meet in order to be patentable.  Look over them to make sure you can meet all of the requirements.  There are four main categories:

1)     Statutory – The kind of invention you are trying to patent must fall within the U.S. Patent Statute.  In general, most inventions are patentable with the exception of certain types specifically mentioned in the statute.  For instance, you cannot patent a literary work or music or generally descriptive material.  Check the patent statute here to see if your invention is specifically barred.

2)     New/Novel – In a nutshell, the invention must be “new” as defined by the USPTO.  Generally, if the invention was disclosed to the public before the patent application was filed, it is not patentable.  It is sometimes a very tricky question to determine what is considered a “public disclosure.” If there is uncertainty about this, you should consult a lawyer to see what the right course of action is before you spend money patenting an idea which might not be considered new, because your patent application will probably be denied.

3)     Usefulness – The usefulness requirement is essentially exactly how it sounds; the invention must serve the purpose which it intends to serve.  For instance, if a t-shirt making machine will not make t-shirts, it will not be patented and is seen as non-useful.  However, this requirement is generally easy to satisfy, especially in technology industries such as computers and electronics.

4)     Non-Obviousness – To determine if this requirement is met, the Patent office decides whether your invention would have been obvious “to one of the ordinary skill in the art.”  Making this determination is one of the most difficult things to do in Patent law.  The best way to see if your invention is non-obvious is to perform a patent search of all previous filings and see if aspects of your patent are included in older patents.  The more unique your idea is, the less likely it would be obvious to one of the ordinary skill in the art.  Go here for more information on what is considered non-obviousness.

Do I need a lawyer to file a patent?

In short, the answer is yes.  While it is possible to file for a patent without a lawyer, the chances of your application complying with all regulations and being approved on the first attempt are exponentially increased by using a lawyer.  Most patent lawyers also have a background in science and can describe your invention in a way that the patent examiner (the person approving your patent) can understand.  (If you need help finding a patent lawyer to help you with your invention, we’ve got some great patent lawyers for you).

How expensive is it to file a patent?

The answer to this question is going to greatly vary depending on the invention itself.  If you are patenting a new handle for a car door, it will likely be cheaper than patenting a new type of engine for a car.  For the cheapest inventions though, including legal fees, it is going to cost you at least $10,000 to file for a patent.  Of course, the type of lawyer you use will also drive up the costs of filing for a patent. You should first get informed about how much lawyers cost to get a better idea and determine whether it’s the right decision to make.