Friday, March 5, 2010

How To Patent An Invention – Free Help for Inventors

A friend of mine told me he wants to know how to patent an invention and where he could get a boiler plate form to protect an invention.

Well… I really don’t recommend a do-it-yourself patent to protect an invention.

In theory it’s certainly possible to file your own patent application; I’m sure the forms are available on the USPTO website.

However, if your idea is worth getting a patent for then the last thing you want to do is to file your own patent application.

A good patent can be worth many millions of dollars, Look at Lego. They had a rock solid patent, and as soon as it expired the market was inundated with similar products, but it was too late… Lego had built up a successful business and brand and will do just fine.

On the other hand a patent can be a waste of money. Take a look at hot water demand system patents. There is the Metlund system which is patented, the RedyTemp which can be run in demand mode, and the Chilieppper, all of which do the exact same thing.

The Chilipepper is the only one that isn’t patented, and yet it does not infringe the Metlund or RedyTemp patents. They are very weak patents, and there wasn’t anything new and different about the Chilipepper to patent.

It doesn’t seem to have made a difference. But then there were already demand systems on the market. It’s when you have no competition or your product has some significant improvement over your competition that a patent becomes important.

Very few patents ever result in a product in the marketplace. There are plenty of reasons for this including poor marketing, the inability to manufacture at a reasonable cost, and as if often the case, lack of demand for the product.

So let’s assume that your great new idea is worth getting a patent. If you are going to go through the process of obtaining a patent you might as well do it right. Unless you are a patent attorney I don’t think you can.

Let’s begin with the patent search.

When you apply for a patent to the USPTO they will do a world-wide patent search. If you search only the US patent database there is a very good chance your patent will be denied due to a patent filed in a foreign country. It has happened to me.

But even searching the US database is a daunting task. Professional patent examiners use what the patent office calls a classification system. If you don’t pick the right class for your search you might as well not do the search because you will not uncover those critical patents.

I don’t fully understand the classification system, and I have no desire to become as proficient at doing patent searches as a professional searcher, but I do want good results. Nowadays a patent search done by your patent attorney, whom he subs out to a professional searcher, will cost around $500. Its money well spent.

Not only do the patent search results alert you to existing patents that can be in the way of your obtaining a patent, it can also suggest interesting new ways for you to look at your idea and improve it.

In the United States it’s not the first one to file a patent that counts, it’s the first person to think of an idea. That means that even if someone else gets a patent, if you can prove you thought of the idea first and can document that you followed the other conditions that apply, the other persons patent will be deemed invalid you will get awarded the patent.

One of the first things you should do is document your idea in a way that it could be used as good solid evidence in a court of law if it should ever come to that. One good way is to write down your idea as clearly as possible and with diagrams if needed, and then have it signed and dated by several witnesses.

Doing a patent search is another effective method, although it will be a later date than when you thought of the idea unless you live next door to a patent attorney.

If you go for a year without doing anything about your idea the patent office will consider the idea abandoned and you loose your thought of date. So again, have evidence that would hold up in a courtroom showing that you never let an entire year pass by without working on your new invention. Keep receipts and notes and whatever you need to clearly show that you never abandoned your invention.

If your idea is relatively new and un-tested, you might want to do some prototyping and developing before deciding if it is worth pursuing a patent. Quite often one discovers more patentable features once one begins developing and prototyping his new invention.

This was or is the case with my most recent invention for hot water demand systems. We know it will work, but cash flow doesn’t really allow us to develop it fully quite yet. As soon as I came up with the idea, we had our patent attorneys a patent search establishing the rough date that it was thought of.

We then filed for a “provisional patent”, which allows you to make changes to the patent language after you do some development work. This typically leads to a much better patent since so much unexpected stuff often shows up after the development process begins. That’s the upside to a provisional patent, the down side being the patent as with all patents only lasts 20 years. If you wait until after the development to file a patent application your 20 years will last longer.

That would only worry me if I thought the development time would be a number of years, which I suppose is often the case with some of the high-tech inventions being developed by big companies.

So my advice is to first figure out if you really need a patent, then do a patent search, and finally file for a provisional patent. And most importantly get a good patent attorney. These days I think a utility patent for a fairly simple idea runs around $4,000 - $5,000 but can be much more for complex high-tech invention ideas.

In my experience it generally takes 2 or 3 years to get a patent with a few battles with the patent examiners. This spreads the cost of the patent out over the several years, depending on the arrangements you make with your patent attorney.

A previous invention article – Simple Machine Inventions