Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Should I Patent My New Invention Idea? How Do I Start?

If you are like most people you simply won’t do anything with your idea. Bringing a great invention idea to market is typically a time consuming expensive and very risky proposition. I imagine most folks don’t even have any idea of where to start or what to do.

In my opinion a good first step is to do a patent search online. It’s free and you can learn a great deal of information by doing one. You might discover your invention has already been invented and that will save you a lot of wasted time and money. You might have to just move on.

Seeing other patents related to your invention idea can spur your thinking on to making improvements in your original idea. You might come up with substantial improvements after viewing how others have tried to solve the same problem you are working on. By being familiar with other patents related to yours you will be able to develop a stronger patent application.

If your invention is patentable then you will have more options when trying to make some money off of the idea. Having a good strong patent on your idea will make it much easier to license or sell it to a large corporation, or can give you a virtual monopoly for almost 20 years. Even if your patent does not issue it will allow you to use the term “patent pending” on your invention, and can be almost as good as a patent when negotiating with potential licensing prospects.

There are downsides to obtaining a patent as well. For one thing they use up your valuable time, and they are not cheap if you hire a patent attorney. A patent attorney now days typically will charge anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000 for a simple utility patent depending on how complex it is. If you want to go it alone it won’t cost much, but it will take quite a bit of your time.

Whether or not to obtain a patent should probably depend heavily on how strong a patent you can get. A good strong patent will provide you with that virtual monopoly for many years, where a weak patent really won’t do you much good. It may however, be good for your ego to have a patent in your name.

There is no substitute for a good thorough patent search done by a professional patent searcher unless you are experienced and or determined and you either live near a patent library or can visit one etc. But you can do a preliminary search yourself online with Google’s patent search engine and/or the USPTO’s search engine.

The USPTO uses a classification system for patents that groups patents into classes and subclasses. If you wish to search at the USPTO you should familiarize yourself with the patent classification system. Go to the USPTO website and in the “site index” look up “Manual of Patent Classification”. Study up on the classification system and learn how it works.

Even if you use the Google search engine it will benefit you greatly if you first learn the classification system the USPTO uses for patents. For instance, when searching using keywords on Google’s patent search engine, if you’ve invented an asparagus harvester you should search under not only “asparagus harvester”, but also “vegetable harvester”, “picking machine”, and other terms that could well have similarities to your invention. If your asparagus picker has an improved conveyor as part of if you would want to search patents related to conveyors, material handling, and the like.

A major problem with doing an online search is that both the USPTO and Google’s patent search engine only go back as far as 1976. Unless your new invention is very high tech and you are sure there are no related patents previous to 1976 you will still want to search both the older US patents and foreign patents if you pursue obtaining a patent.

Now go start learning about the USPTO patent classifications.