How to Legally Protect a Product Idea

By Nicola Gordon-Thaxter
Protect your great idea as soon as possible, with a patent.
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There are few things more frustrating than inventing a fabulous product and then finding out that someone else is profiting from it. To avoid this it is best if you legally protect your product idea with a patent. A patent not only protects your idea, but it helps to establish a certain level of credibility with clients and suppliers. U.S. patents give owners the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale or selling the invention in the United States.

Conduct a "patentability search," which will tell you if there are similar products to your own already in existence and patented. You need to do this to ensure that your idea is not infringing on someone else's patent rights.

Obtain the services of a reputable patent attorney. It's better to have a professional help you navigate the application process, as the way you word your application can have a huge impact on how protected your product is.

Gather detailed records of your product idea. You will need to prove how your idea evolved before you can submit your patent application. It is also better if you limit the number of people you tell about your idea; in fact, for your own protection it is preferable not to tell anyone but your lawyer about it until you have received your patent.

Fill in the application form and then submit it. You can visit the patent and trademark office in your country or you can have your attorney obtain one for you. Depending on how complicated your idea is, a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will cost between $1,000 and $100,000 and will take an average of 24.6 months to obtain after you have submitted your application. It will last for 20 years if your idea is related to utilities or plants and 14 years if it is a design patent.