by Shop Quirky July 08, 2016

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!

  1. Consider hiring a registered patent attorney – this step is not necessary but can provide some peace of mind for those inventors who might not feel confident in their knowledge of patents, the inventing process or just want to make sure they have all their bases covered.
  2. Determine which patent type you need – in a previous blog post, “the ABC’s of inventing your dreams,” we discussed the three types of patent: Utility, Design and Plant.  Identify which of these three best categorizes your invention, before going any further.
  3. File a provisional patent application – this preliminary patent provides a temporary safekeeping of your patent, protecting against someone who might swoop in later on and claim they invented your concept or product before you did.  Remember, if you want to keep your brilliance safe, err on the side of filing – as opposed to not filing - and put your proof in writing.
  4. Register as an eFiler on the USPTO’s website – this is the easiest and quickest way to file, and is worth the extra registration step.  You can always submit your application via mail or fax, as well.      
  5. Gather all information related to your invention – on your application, you’ll need to specify anything and everything about your product or creation through an abstract, summary, detailed description, possible ramifications or issues, legal parameters and more.  The more you’ve ironed out about our invention, the easier this process will be.  Again, consider using a patent attorney to help you with this information and the overall application if you are not confident in your knowledge or abilities.
  6. Complete and review your application – this may sting a bit, but a patent can take anywhere from one to three years to be fully processed.  Therefore, it just makes sense to proof your application with a fine-tooth comb for errors, typos, misleading language; anything that could deter or slow-down the already sluggish patent application process.  Take the extra time and set yourself up for success, not disappointment and frustration!
  7. Actively participate in the patent process –throughout the processing of your patent, you will be assigned one patent examiner per case.  If they reach out to you with questions or request correspondence, reply as soon as possible to help clarify anything and to assist in driving the process forwards.  Consider arranging phone or in-person interviews to voice concerns, as questions or discuss other relative information.
Like we mentioned earlier, the patent process can be daunting if you’re a newbie to the inventing game.  But games can be won – you need only have a plan of action, determination and an awesome idea to start.  You’ve already been struck with a bolt of genius, now get to work on that patent search and see where the journey takes you – one patient step at a time!

Shop Quirky
Shop Quirky

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3 Responses

jim
jim

July 20, 2016

Hi, what is the procedure to follow to submit an idea to Quirky. thanks, Jim

Thunder Martian
Thunder Martian

July 11, 2016

Informative article! Like the new blog here!

Terry
Terry

July 09, 2016

Very helpful, thank you for the info it’s great to see your program.

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