If you have an idea you believe could change the world, or at least make someone's life a little easier, while making you some money, you may want to consider getting a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. While a trademark protects a word, a phrase or a product brand, a patent protects new inventions. Once you're protected with a patent, you can invent and sell, assuming your idea is a success. Without the patent, your idea can become someone else's through something as simple as a brief conversation.
Types of Patents
Before beginning, you should know what kind of patent you will apply for. There are three types of patents. A utility patent is for a new process, machine, composition of matter or a variation of these. A design patent covers a new and ornamental design for an item to be manufactured. A plant patent covers new inventions or discoveries of plant life.
Prepare Your Idea for a Patent Application
Simply stating that you have a new idea for a warp drive or a longer lasting light bulb isn't enough to get a patent. The U.S. Patent Office will issue a patent only if you present a truly unique idea and demonstrate that your idea can be invented Compile convincing evidence that an actual product is possible and probable. A clever idea alone is not enough. If you really do have an "idea" that can become a "product," you're ready to contact the patent office.
Provide documentation and details to win a patent. How did your idea come to you? Document it. How did you work your idea out to a point you knew it would work? Detail it on paper, every step. Show what it will take to move your idea from the scratch pad to the manufacturing room and from the factory to marketing. Have plans for every step; notarize them; organize them; practically memorize them. It is, after all, your idea.
Research Other Patents
Make sure that your idea really is your idea, and only yours. Similar inventions can make your patenting process more difficult. A patent search will let you know if you may need to modify your product. You can conduct a search for free online through the US Patent and Trademark Office website. Be creative in your search; your idea may have been imagined by another inventor under a different category. And, if it was more than 20 years ago, the research may be a bit tedious.
Build a Prototype
Build a prototype, or working model, and use it to show exactly what your product is designed to do. Your proof may be in your prototype. You envisioned it; bring the vision to life. Seeing how the product works will help the patent office determine its uniqueness and viability. Building that prototype may help you work through any unforeseen flaws in your idea.
Apply for a Patent
Apply for your patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Patent types vary, and this is where a patent attorney may be helpful. Provisional patents, for instance, buy you a limited amount of safe time for further development. You still need to obtain your non-provisional patent within a year. Some inventors consider design patents or utility patents, depending on the idea they're working to protect and market.