In your mind’s eye, a patent office might conjure up a scene ripped from the pages of Harry Potter’s wizarding world, with long cramped hallways stacked with papers (pending patents) and frantic business folks running around trying to beat the clock. Little, tiny old clerks nearly covered by yet more leaning towers of papers (more pending patents) as they yell, “Next, please!” to the never ending line.
This would be a daunting image to many – especially anyone who is hoping to patent an idea, concept or invention sometime this century. But, like Harry Potter himself, this scene is not true-to-life - and while it is certainly true that rushing into filing for a patent is NEVER a good idea, the process is not nearly as harrowing as one might believe who has never set foot on the patent path. With a little bit of patience and the right course of action, you can successfully and confidently file a patent and secure for your invention or idea the safekeeping it deserves.
What is a patent?
As defined on dictionary.com, the first three workable of a patent are applicable for our purposes, as they describe the various ways the word “patent” is used in the invention industry. A patent is: 1) the exclusive right granted by a government to an inventor to manufacture, use, or sell an invention for a certain number of years; 2) an invention or process protected by this right; 3) an official document conferring such a right; letters patent.
Who invented the patent?
It’s been a long process to perfect the patent over centuries around various parts of our world, but here are some highlights. The idea of a patent is first seen historically in 500 BC where the ancient Greek Sybians (now Italy) awarded and commended those who created “refinements in luxury.” Closer to our modern day history, England declared in 1623 that patents could be created for “projects of new inventions” and would later require a description of the invention, similar to our current day’s application. The first patent in America was granted in 1790; then the following year in 1791, the French government devised a system that would grant patents without examination. And society has continued perfecting the process since then...
Who issues patents?
Protecting our rights as Americans has served as a founding principle of our country since its inception, so it should come as no surprise that there are laws and a system in place to protect our intellectual property, as well. The “Copyright Clause” in the United States Constitution, Section 8, Clause 8, authorizes Congressional power to grant both patents and copyrights. In twenty-first century America, all patents are filed with and granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a federal agency specifically designated for distributing patents, trademarks and copyrights and monitoring the entire, ongoing process.
What can be patented?
According to the USPTO, “any person who ‘invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent’.” Here’s a hint: USEFUL is a key word in the above statement.
The importance of patents
Protecting a potentially valuable idea or invention with a patent could be the best move you ever make as an inventor – or it could prove to be a huge waste of time and money if you don’t carry out this crucial first step in the process: FIRST determine if the cost of filing for a patent and protecting an idea is worth the cost it will create. In other words, is your idea truly unique and valuable - could it be worth a LOT down the road? Or, has a similar invention already been created, which would render your invention obsolete or unimportant? Or is your concept, well, just not good enough to warrant filing for and paying for a patent? Ask yourself these tough questions now, you’ll be thankful later.
Research is key
Before you even consider filing a patent, do yourself a favor and commit to conducting a bit of research to determine if your invention is already in existence, or if it will even be feasible or marketable. Utilize search engines like Google, and type in possible keywords associated with your invention and see what turns up. And do take some time sifting through the USPTO’s online database to uncover existing patents similar to your invention. If this sounds overwhelming to you, it would be if you attempted to search through every single patent ever granted since the 1700’s on your own. Luckily for you, the USPTO has created a Seven Step Strategy for conducting your own patent search, if you’ve got the time and patience for the process and the confidence in your idea. While you’re online, try other free patent search resources like freepatentsonline.com, or even hire a Professional Patent Searcher to do the searching for you if the funds are available.
Filing a patent
Filing a patent will take some determination, time and patience – but it doesn’t have to be scary or foreboding! Great things take time, right?! Below, we’ve broken down the core steps you should take to get the patent ball rolling - and to give you some control over your inventive destiny!
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