Have an idea for a great invention floating around in your head? To ensure that you have exclusive rights to your big idea for 20 years, you will need to obtain a patent.
However, the patent application process can be confusing and expensive. The US Patent and Trademark Office has a website dedicated to the patent processbut if you don’t speak “government” it can be hard to get through.
That’s why we’ve broken down and simplified the steps for you.
Step 1: Know your options
There are three ways to file a patent:
- DIY patent applications in which you do everything yourself.
- Third-party software that guides you through the checkout process.
- Patent attorneys that cost an arm and a leg, but may be worth the cost.
If you want to go the DIY route, you can still get help. they exist Patent and Trademark Centers in almost every state, and staff at these centers can provide free guidance on the patent process. But don’t expect them to be able to answer legal questions or fill out an application on your behalf.
Third-party software can guide you through the process. Think of it as TurboTax for patents. They may ask you a series of questions, then complete an application form and send it electronically on your behalf. Nola and LegalZoom are two websites that offer this service for a fee.
Finally, there are the big guns: patent attorneys. These professionals don’t come cheap, but if you think your idea has a lot of money-making potential, you might want to hire one. A patent attorney will make sure all the details are correct and reduce the chances of someone else sweeping in and stealing your idea because of a technical detail.
While an attorney can make the patent application process easier for you, expect to pay thousands for their services.
However, individuals who meet certain income and invention requirements may be eligible for a free attorney through state patent pro bono program.
If you decide to use a lawyer, you can skip to step 6. Your lawyer will take care of this. For everyone else, keep reading.
Step 2: Search for existing patents
Once you’ve decided to go the DIY route or use fill-in-the-blank software, your next step is to search existing patents to see if your idea has already been accepted.
You can search for existing patents on the USPTO website. Note that the office has a 38-minute tutorial on how to conduct a search. This may seem like a long time to spend on a tutorial, but it’s probably better than trying to decipher the search options and results yourself.
If you can’t find a patent for your idea, continue to step 3. But first, confirm that it’s yours the idea is indeed patentable. Patentable subject matter falls into these categories:
- The process
- Item of manufacture
- Composition of matter
- Improvement of any of the above
However, your patentable idea must be non-obvious and useful, which means that items with no discernible purpose are not eligible. You cannot patent an abstract idea, a work of art, a law of nature, or a physical phenomenon.
Step 3: Decide whether to disclose your idea first
In the past, the person who first created an invention or came up with an idea that could be patented was entitled to a patent. All that was required was for the applicant to provide documentation of the date of the invention, which could be as simple as writing down the idea and date in a notebook and having a witness sign the page.
That changed in 2011 with the passage of the America Invents Act. Under the new law, the patent is now awarded to whoever files the patent first, unless someone else has already publicly disclosed the idea. In this case, the person who published the idea has one year to apply for a patent.
If you think someone else might jump on your idea, but you’re not quite ready to file for a patent, you can post your concept on a blog or elsewhere in the public marketplace. Another option would be to file a provisional patent, which also gives you a year to change your application to a final, non-provisional one.
Step 4: Complete the patent application
Now let’s get to the heart of the process: it’s time to fill out the paperwork and submit it for review.
This is where your patent attorney makes a difference because there is no standard patent form.
The leastthe patent application must contain:
- Written description of the invention.
- One or more drawings, if necessary.
The more specific you are in your claims, the better you will protect your invention. Nolo.com has a few sample requests for common items so you can understand how they are structured. You can also view an example provisional patent at PatentFile.org.
Many applications include more information than the minimum requirements. They may include items such as an abstract, an affidavit by the applicants that they believe they are the original inventor, and other literature.
Then it’s time to wait. The USPTO can take two to three years or more to review a non-provisional patent application and make a final decision. Limited number express applications are also allowed every year.
Remember, if your application is for a provisional patent, you only have one year to complete the process and file a non-provisional application.
Step 5: File a reconsideration request, if necessary
According to data, more than 90 percent of patent applications are initially rejected Inventorprise Inc. Common reasons for rejection include:
- More than one invention is included in the application.
- The invention is already the subject of an existing patent.
- The matter cannot be patented.
- The invention is obvious, which makes it unpatentable.
- Incorrect claim language.
If you receive a rejection, you can send a reply with corrections or clarifications and request a reconsideration. If this does not convince the patent office to reverse its decision, you can file an appeal with the Patent and Appeal Board.
Step 6: Pay the government fees
Once you receive notification from the government that your patent application has been accepted, it’s time to pay and send the issuance fee. (Here is a fee schedule.) If you have not already done so, you will also be required to provide an oath or declaration that you believe you are the original inventor of the item.
Step 7: Receive your patent
Wow! You’re done!
The patent will be valid for 20 years from the date of grant and will give you exclusive rights to manufacture and market your product. But don’t forget to pay maintenance fees required. The expiration date is 3½, 7½ and 11½ years after the patent is issued.
Have you ever applied for a patent? Share your experiences in the comments below or on our Facebook page.