To save money on getting a patent, do the low-cost or free steps first before spending money on the patent process. I’ve listed seven (7) of them below. They will help you spend your money wisely. You may even decide that it isn’t worth going through the patent process.
So, what are the steps you should do before spending money on a patent? The 7 steps an inventor should complete before spending money on a patent are:
- Step 1: Self assess whether your invention is patentable
- Step 2: Conduct your informal patent search
- Step 3: Prepare a business plan
- Step 4: Show proof of concept
- Step 5: Show proof of market demand
- Step 6: Determine market size
- Step 7: Build a website (optional)
Let’s dive into the seven steps.
Step 1: Self assess patentability
Any inventor should be able to self-assess whether their invention satisfies the legal requirements for getting a patent. Briefly, the requirements to get a patent are:
- Requirement #1: Is your invention useful?
- Requirement #2: Is your invention eligible for patent protection?
- Requirement #3: Is your invention novel?
- Requirement #4: Is your invention non-obvious?
Plus, the invention cannot fall within one of the three exceptions.
- Exception #1: Is your invention directed to an abstract idea?
- Exception #2: Is your invention directed to a law of nature?
- Exception #3: Is your invention directed to a natural phenomenon?
If the invention satisfies these four legal requirements and does not fall within one of the exceptions, then you should be able to get a patent on your invention.
If you want an in-depth discussion of these requirements, read my article here.
Step 2: Informal patent search
Before you engage an attorney or discuss your invention with the attorney, you should conduct an informal patent search on your own. If you find something, then great. You’ve just shown to yourself that you cannot get a patent because your invention is not novel. You didn’t even have to pay an attorney to tell you this.
By informal, I mean a simple Google search. Google indexes everything. Google’s index includes patent documents, other people’s products, forums, etc.
I would search Google Patents, YouTube, amazon.com, or any other major search engine for your invention. Here are some steps to completing a patent search on your own.
Step 3: Prepare a business plan
You can also prepare a business plan for your patented invention. If you can’t prove to yourself that you can make money on paper, then you probably can’t make money on the invention.
A business plan is a document that forces you to think through various aspects about launching your product to see if you can make money on your invention.
Now, the business plan requires you to estimate some of the certain numbers. I understand that this can be a very frustrating process for many. You don’t need a full business plan, but you need to at least go through the mental steps of the business plan. It will help you to find out if you have the desire and the money to get the job done. If you don’t have the desire, time, or money to launch your product, then don’t waste your time or money on a patent attorney. One needs a lot of grit and tenacity to go through the patent process.
Moreover, the business plan helps you not to fall in love with your idea. Frequently, when I consult with inventors, they are in love with their idea. They think that their invention is the greatest idea since sliced bread. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. I try to tell them that their idea isn’t good. It sometimes gets me in trouble. However, I prefer that they give up on their bad idea and look for a better one. If they do find a better idea, then I’d prefer to represent them in that newer and better idea than to earn a fee for their bad idea.
One word of caution. You should not get business advice from your patent attorney and that includes me.
Step 4: Show proof of concept
You need to show that your concept or invention works. If the invention does not work as intended, then there is no need to get a patent or launch your business. Typically, people show proof of concept by building a prototype. The working prototype shows that the concept works as conceptualized.
One of the benefits of building a prototype is that you will often find yourself improving your prototype. Each improvement can be the basis of a separate patent or collectively work together to come up with a new invention. As such, if your machine or device or invention is somewhat complex, I highly recommend that you build a prototype to prove to yourself and others that the concept does work. Is it easy to hold? Is it effective in its aim or purpose? You can find the answer to these questions by building the prototype.
One of the frequent questions that come up during an initial consultation is whether someone should first:
- spend money building a working prototype
- conduct a formal patent search.
An informal patent search would take the inventor’s time and no outlay of cash. As such, you should conduct an informal patent search before building a prototype. However, after conducting the informal patent search and if no prior references show the same invention, then you should build a working prototype.
When you build your prototype, you might have to hire an engineer, a designer, or a contractor. Unfortunately, when you hire an outside contractor to build the prototype, you open yourself up to losing your invention rights.
How does this happen? Well, when the engineer, designer, or contractor thinks of various embodiments, these embodiments belong to the engineer, designer, or contractor. They do not belong to you unless they have agreed to assign those ideas over to you.
You can get the assignment done with an independent contractor’s agreement. Unless you have entered into an independent contractor’s agreement with the engineer, designer, or contractor, they will own the embodiment or invention. The one who conceives of the invention is vested with the invention rights unless the inventor assigns the invention to you.
If you require one, please contact your attorney to get one.
Step 5: Show proof of market demand
You also need to show proof of market demand. In other words, if you build it, will they buy it? Do people want to buy your invention?
Gaging market demand is hard to show. If it were easy to do, then everyone would be doing it, and we would have only successful products that have high market demand. Frequently, the level of market demand is your educated guess.
Some inventors have resorted to just asking their friends and families as to what they think about their invention.
Other creative ways of gaging market demand are to launch a Kickstarter campaign. Unfortunately, some have launched a Kickstarter campaign without filing a patent application and have gotten their invention rights stolen by others. There is no good answer here.
One of the ways that you can try to elicit market demand is to place a focus group under a nondisclosure agreement and to show them your prototype so that they can give you honest feedback. The standard nondisclosure agreement is only a template. Don’t use it unless your patent attorney has reviewed it.
One way to show market demand is by starting a crowdfunding campaign. If enough people are willing to fund your crowdfunding campaign, then it suggests that there is a market demand for your product. However, before you start the crowdfunding campaign, you would need to complete steps 8-10 so that you have priority over your invention against others that might file after you launch your crowdfunding campaign.
Step 6: Determine market size
The market size for the invention has to be so large that even if you only captured a portion of it, you would still make a lot of money. If you build it, do you have enough consumers that will buy it?
The market size is the total number of people that might be interested in purchasing your product or service. If the invention is related to every single homeowner, then the market size of the invention is all homes within the United States. From there, you have to scale down your expectations. Most likely, you won’t get 100% of the market size. You will get some fraction thereof. If you can make money by capturing a realistic fraction of the total market size, then the invention may be a good idea.
If the market size is so small that even if you were to capture a majority of the market share, you would not make money, then don’t do it. Don’t spend money to get a patent or hire a patent attorney.
Step 7: Build a website
If applicable, you may want to build your website to sell your invention. The website should not describe how the invention works until you achieve patent-pending status. The following link explains everything you would want to know about patent-pending: Patent Pending: Definition, Benefits and Warning. You should build the website once you are committed to starting your business. If you are familiar with how to build a website, this step can be fairly inexpensive. However, if you don’t know how to build a website, then you may have to delay this step until a later time when it makes sense.
After completing these 7 steps, you should retain a patent attorney who will guide you through the rest of the steps to get a patent.
Here is a guide to selecting and retaining a patent attorney.