Many people regularly have ideas for new inventions and innovations that can make lives easier and more enjoyable. While many of these ideas never come to fruition, some inventors decide to pursue patents for their inventions and eventually introduce them to the market. The process through which inventors register their ideas and create inventions can be fairly complex, so many inventors choose to hire patent lawyers to handle the legal process required to register an invention. To officially register an idea and obtain a patent, the inventor must apply for a patent from the United States Patent and Trademark Office and have the application approved.
Maintain Thorough Documentation of the Invention
An inventor who plans to register ideas for inventions must plan ahead for the patenting process by maintaining meticulous records of her inventions. These records should include:
- Detailed diagrams showing exactly how the inventions work.
- Supporting documentation explaining how the inventions work.
- Documentation explaining the inventor’s inspirations for the inventions, including the challenges the inventions will solve for users.
- If possible, photographs of models and prototypes.
- If possible, working prototypes of the inventions.
Determine if the Idea Qualifies for a Patent
It is not possible to simply register an idea alone. The USPTO issues patents only to proposed concepts that are submitted along with supporting documents that show how they work. Additionally, an invention only qualifies for a patent if it meets these criteria:
- It is a novel, unique and original idea.
- It has not yet been disclosed to the public.
- It is not obvious, meaning that it is an entirely new concept, rather than a logical improvement on an existing concept.
- It must meet the USPTO’s criteria for being patentable, which means it must be a human-made invention that provides value to potential users.
The USPTO issues three types of patents:
- Utility patents.
- Plant patents.
- Design patents.
Utility patents are issued for machines, processes, products and human-made chemical and genetic compounds that can be scientifically proven to provide some type of value to users. Plant patents are issued for sexually reproduced plant seeds or asexually reproduced plants that have been created through human experimentation. Design patents are issued for nonfunctional items, like pieces of decor.
Read More: How to Patent & Sell an Idea
Determine the Viability of Patenting Your Invention
When an inventor wants to register an invention, she must first determine whether somebody else has already patented the same concept. To do this, she must search through existing patent records, and if she finds that her invention has already been patented, determine whether the patent is still active. She can conduct her patent search using online resources like Google Patents and the USPTO’s website.
The second half of the consideration is determining whether patenting the invention is actually worth the cost of doing so. Patenting an invention can be quite expensive, potentially costing the inventor hundreds or even thousands of dollars to prepare sufficient diagrams and documentation, hire a patent lawyer and actually purchase the patent itself. In some cases, such as when an invention does not seem like it will pay off for its inventor commercially or in terms of increasing her social or professional clout, it is not worthwhile for the inventor to register an invention.
Apply for a Patent
Before filing a regular patent application (RPA), many inventors choose to file a provisional patent application (PPA) to register their ideas. A PPA costs the inventor between $65 and $260, depending on the size of the inventor’s company, and only requires a simple drawing and explanation for the patent to be approved. Following a PPA, the inventor has one year to file an RPA to officially start the process to register an invention.
An inventor can file for an RPA online or through the mail. Typically, this costs at least $900 and can cost the inventor much more depending on the nature of the invention and the resources, such as legal counsel, the inventor retains for the process. After submitting an application to the USPTO, the inventor can expect a response within 12 to 32 months.
If a patent application is approved, the patent is granted, and the inventor’s intellectual property is protected. If it is rejected, he may appeal the decision to potentially have it accepted. When appealing a decision, the inventor typically revises one or more parts of the application that were deemed unacceptable in order to have the application accepted. Getting an appealed application accepted can take one year or longer.
- aloshbennett, Flickr.com Creative Commons License