When inventor King Camp Gillette patented the safety razor in 1904, he probably had a strong hunch that his handy new tool would revolutionize the way men and women shaved for more than a century to come. If you've invented a brand new tool, you probably already know what criteria your new gadget must meet to receive a patent from the United States Patent & Trademark Office (PTO): It must be novel, non-obvious and useful. Since you've developed a new tool, you'll apply for a utility patent, one of many patents a new invention can receive from the PTO. Now let's get down to brass tacks – patenting your new tool.
Conducting the Novelty Search
Conduct a novelty and an infringement search. A novelty search determines if there's another tool in existence that's similar to, or the same as your tool. It can also determine if such a tool was once patented and has since fallen into public domain, in which case it could not be patented again.
Conducting an Infringement Search
While a novelty search is a brief sweep to make sure an application won't be rejected because your tool is not novel or non-obvious, an infringement search is more comprehensive. While this is not a necessary step, each inventor has a certain duty of care to fellow inventors. If you file a patent application for your tool only to find that you've infringed on someone else's patent for a similar tool, you may be liable for punitive damages – and your application will get rejected, too. You can search the PTO's website on your own; however, first-time inventors are best served by hiring a professional search firm.
Hiring a Patent Agent
Hire a patent attorney or patent agent. If you're a first-time inventor, unfortunately, there's no DIY when it comes to filing out your patent application. The application follows a legally prescribed format. Only those with expertise know how to draft your application so that it passes muster.
Of particular concern is the "specification" part of your application, which includes the "claims" you make about your invention – what it does, how it functions and what makes it unique from all others. You might be able to explain how your tool works in lay terms, but if you can't describe it in precise legal and scientific language, the PTO will reject your application. You will then need to pay additional fees to appeal its decision. If it makes you feel any better, consider all of the great inventors who came before you – most of them didn't draft their own patent applications either.
Details With the Application
Help your attorney or agent with the application. You might be called on to provide pictures of your invention, or if you're skilled at drawing, you might present your expert drafter with an abstract. You're also required to sign an "oath" as part of your application that states that you believe yourself to be the first inventor of your tool.
Remember the administrative detail. In addition to your application, the PTO requires an accompanying Application Data Sheet that contains biographic data about you, the inventor. This is used for administrative purposes when the PTO enters your information.
Filing the Application
File your patent application with the PTO and pay the requisite filing fees. Note that fees vary and that if you file through the mail or in person, there may be more fees. Check the PTO to see the most current fee structure. You'll also pay the PTO additional search and examination fees.
Your patent attorney or patent agent can guide you through the current PTO fee structures and help you determine if you meet the criteria of a small entity.
Is your tool a little different? Considerably off the beaten path? No need to despair – the PTO has issued patents for such unlikely inventions as the tricycle lawnmower, horse diaper and cricket gun. You can view more of these patented inventions by clicking on the link below.