You can patent an idea if you know how to make and use (i.e., enablement) the idea. Your idea isn’t just a pie-in-the-sky idea. Rather, it’s your invention. The patent process is quite expensive (patent cost) and you need to be careful and use your money in the right areas. Otherwise, you could waste it and not be able to complete the process.
Let’s discuss how to patent an idea as well as tips for helping you through the process.
Step #1: Patent only big money ideas
The patent process and patent litigation are expensive. The patent process could cost you upwards of $15,000 to $30,000. Patent litigation could cost you between $100,000 to $1.5 million. As such, you need to make sure that your idea is a big-money idea.
A big money idea is an idea that if successful, even moderately, would bring in significant amounts of money. Otherwise, you wouldn’t spend the money to go through the patent process and patent your idea. Ideas that can only make you little money are small-money ideas. The patent process isn’t worth it. If someone were to infringe your patent, the potential damages that you could recoup wouldn’t pay for your patent expenses. The potential money you could make on your own product wouldn’t even pay for the patent process over the life of the patent.
Step #2: Do a novelty search or patent search
You can do a free patent search yourself. You don’t need to hire a patent attorney like me to do one for you. A simple free prior art search that you can do at home is a Google image search.
- Go to google.com
- Type in descriptive terms of your idea or invention
- Click on images
- Scroll down the images to see if anyone has already produced your invention idea or invention.
If you found something, you cannot get a patent. The patent process stops here. Move to the next idea.
If you don’t find anything like your idea, then you need to decide if you want to do a deeper search.
If you want to take a deeper dive, you can follow the tutorial published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Their tutorial is called the 7-Step Patent Search Strategy. It’s the same steps that I would take if you paid me to do a patent search for you.
If you feel confident in your search, then move on to the prototyping step. Otherwise, you may want to hire a patent attorney like me to confirm your findings. You can contact me to schedule your consultation.
Step #3: Prototype your idea
Prototyping your idea is important for a variety of reasons.
- Prototyping provides proof of concept.
- Prototyping helps others understand your idea.
- Prototyping helps you to work through the bugs of your idea.
To prototype your idea, you can 3D print the product to test fit and function. Engineers and 3D printers are quite common and inexpensive. For the cost, they provide significant advantages during the patent process. Oftentimes, when I pick up a prototype, it helps me to understand the nuances of the invention and discover new aspects of the product that might be patented.
Step #4: File a patent application on your invention
You should file a utility application if the invention is related to the function of the product. On the other hand, you should file a design application if the invention is related to the aesthetics or the looks of the product.
To prepare your patent application, I recommend that you hire a patent attorney. The patent application is an extremely complex document and I’ve rarely found an inventor-prepared document that I would consider well-written. At best, they are mediocre. If you would like to hire me to represent you, I invite you to contact me to schedule a consultation. I will help you through the process and explain the options, the pros and cons of each option as well as my recommended course of action each step of the way.
If you still want to prepare a patent application without the help of a patent attorney, I’ve created a tutorial on how to write a patent application that you can use.
Step #5: Work with the examiner to get your patent
The examination process should not be an adversarial process with the examiner. Rather, it is a cooperative investigation between the examiner and the applicant. It might not seem that way if you’ve gone through the process before. However, there are ways to make the process more pleasant and efficient.
First, be reasonable with the examiner. The examination process might seem adversarial at first. The primary reason is that the inventors don’t realize that the examiner is reading the claim language under differently.
They are giving the claim language their broadest reasonable interpretation. When they say broad, I mean broad. For example, as you read this, you are “attached” to my computer since we are both attached to this earth. It’s that broad.
The language of the claims is not given its plain and ordinary meaning as you and I would understand the words to mean in a normal conversation. You can learn more about BRI to help you to understand what the examiner is saying in the office action. Read my article: What does the broadest reasonable interpretation mean? Understanding the BRI will help you to reduce friction with the examiner and make the process more fruitful.
Second, consider talking with the examiner over a phone call during an examiner’s interview. Oftentimes, the written communication between the examiner and the applicant is inefficient and not clear. A telephone call with the examiner is much more efficient because there is a dialogue between the examiner, the patent attorney, and the inventor. You can get much more done during that phone call. You’ll also get to know the examiner a little bit more so that the process doesn’t seem adversarial.
If an agreement is reached for allowable claims, you can even ask the examiner to enter those amendments via an examiner’s amendment.
If you want to learn more about how to respond to office actions, you can read my article on how to respond to office actions. It will provide a much more in-depth explanation of how to methodically approach the office action and respond to the examiner.