Did you know that patent applications are required by law to be kept secret for 18 months? Or that inventors can file provisional patent applications to effectively gain 12 more months to refine a product? Or that your invention must be novel, non-obvious, and functional? There are many, many factors to consider when deciding whether to file for a patent or not. For inventors and entrepreneurs (and first-time creators), the process can be exhausting, expensive, and time-consuming. Here are some different considerations to mull over while in the process of turning dreams into reality...
Differences between Design Patents and Utility Patents
As the name suggests, “design” patents cover the aesthetic portion of a product, such as ornamental shape and styling. Design patents are generally cheap and almost always granted. However, a design patent doesn't really offer much protection, because someone else could change the slightest thing about the look to get around the patent. We have seen that some "guaranteed patent" services will prey on inventors by filing design versus utility patents.
Utility is really what most people think of when they hear the word patent.These cost a lot of money to get. Usually they are bounced back to the applicant a couple of times for adjustment before they are granted (if they are granted). For a utility, it doesn't matter what your device looks like, it matters what it does and/or how it works. You have to specify "claims" that state exactly what you are protecting with your patent. Usually there are pages and pages of additional information provided to clarify the device's operation.
What are some of the reasons inventors and entrepreneurs should file for a patent?
The most obvious reason to file a provisional or non-provisional patent is to gain exclusive rights to use the invention. If the patent is prosecuted (which means “granted”), this allows the inventor the opportunity to monetize the invention as the market leader. Obviously, there is great potential to realize financial gain, and this generally drives the decision to file for a patent or not. Here are some other reasons individuals may decide to file an application:
- Selling or licensing the rights to another company: Perhaps an inventor or entrepreneur doesn’t have the funds or is not interested in commercializing a product. It can potentially still generate revenue for the inventor if he/she sells the rights to another company for exploitation. In this way, an inventor can benefit financially after going through the entire patent process even if they don’t market it themselves.
- The ability to cross-license: This is generally more applicable to businesses and enterprises, but it’s possible for inventors and entrepreneurs to engage in cross-licensing after a patent is prosecuted. Cross-licensing is basically an exchange of rights to use patented or copyrighted material between two or more parties.
- Street cred:Art Klotz did! All jokes aside, having multiple patents in your portfolio can give you negotiating power and create an impression of professional competence. Multiple patents can also help in the fundraising process, allowing you to continue to innovate or refine a previous product.
What should you do before filing a patent application?
One of the most important - and often overlooked - steps is to conduct a patent search (visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office here, or use Google Patents). A patent search will turn up inventions and products that may compete with or preclude your own application, and can help you make more informed decisions about how to spend your money going forward. As mentioned above, there is a legal requirement to keep applications within the previous 18 months confidential, so it is impossible to be certain that someone else hasn’t already filed for a similar product. Of note, many individuals may conduct their own patent search, but you should strongly consider hiring a patent lawyer for this step if you’re serious about applying for a patent - they will find examples of “prior art” and know how to search for relevant applications. Again, this prior knowledge is critical to have so that you are not draining thousands of dollars trying to patent something that is not likely to be granted.
Do you have an idea that you’re trying to turn into reality? Creative Mechanisms is a premier design and engineering firm to help your project reach the next stage.
At Creative Mechanisms, we don’t do any patenting, but many of the projects we work on eventually go through the process. We often work with inventors, entrepreneurs, and companies who have existing patents that we need to work within so their devices are in fact protected by the patents they own. For instance, a common mistake is that a device is patented before it is prototyped. Then when the prototype is made, the inventor or company realizes it doesn't work as expected, so the design needs to be changed...which means the patent may not cover it anymore and becomes useless. Creative Mechanisms can help you brainstorm solutions in the event a device is already patented.
Occasionally, we are told that we need to avoid a certain patent that already exists for a client’s competitor. For this, we read the claims carefully and determine what exactly is being protected. From there, we can offer suggestions for alternative designs that would not violate the given patent, and could potentially be patent-able on their own. At Creative Mechanisms, our specialty is creating elegant solutions to complex problems across a variety of industries, and we bring this experience to the patenting process for our clients. Take a look at our client testimonial page to get an idea of our previous projects.
Please be advised that we also offer a class specifically for inventors and entrepreneurs that will teach you:
- How to launch a product
- How to research if your idea is patented and when to engage an attorney
- Licensing versus manufacturing
- How to calculate ROI
If this sounds interesting to you, please contact us today, or click on the link below!