If you are an entrepreneur with an innovative new product or service you are ready to take to the market, you know about the race to your establishing your patent. The pressure to get a patent for your product before somebody else is very real – and can also be very stressful. I often hear people come to me saying that they felt process to getting a patent was difficult to navigate, and they weren’t always sure what they could and couldn’t do with the patent once it was secured.
If you’re ready to start the patent process, keep these eight things in mind.
Though it may seem obvious, not everyone has a clear understanding of a patent before they set out to get one. Before seeking out a patent, it is best to know exactly what it is, to avoid confusion and frustration later.
A patent is a legal document and right granted to an inventor that protects the inventor’s ideas. It provides protection for the inventor’s product, the inventor’s process, the inventor’s manufactured product or the inventor’s recipe. The patent also spells out set number of years for which the ideas will be legally protected and under the monopoly of the inventor.
In other words, if you’ve got an idea or product that’s never been created, a patent will give you exclusive rights to make and sell your idea or product, for a limited number of years.
When it comes to filing for a patent, the “need for speed” is very real. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) grants patents to the first individual (or group of individuals) who applies. Even if you can prove you were the first to invent a product or develop an idea, the first to file successfully will be granted the patent.
While patents are not required for an inventor to sell an invented product or use an invented process in the United States, a patent keeps others from capitalizing on your invention for an extended period of time. For this time, only you can manufacture and sell your invention or use your method.
However, since this is technically a temporary monopoly, anti-monopoly laws mean you cannot hold this right forever. Utility and plant patents last for twenty years, while design patents issued after May 13, 2015 will last fifteen years.
Patents are generally issued to individuals, not businesses. The assumption is that a patent will be awarded to an individual or a group of individuals who are the “inventors,” so long as they are the first to apply for the patent. For a business to gain ownership of a patent, the patent holders must sight a written assignment of rights. A business cannot involve itself with the invention or invented process until this happens.
Before applying for a patent, you should know which will suit your needs. The United States has three types of patents: utility, plant and design. In China, there are two types: invention and utility. Know the benefits and drawbacks of each type and which will work best for you before applying.
If you do not want your competitors to capitalize on your invention(s), or if your invention consists of many original parts, you may need to apply for multiple patents. Using strategic wording also decreases the chance that a competitor will be able to get by the regulations with a subtle variation on your invention. For this reason, it is wise to work with a professional patent lawyer when applying.
If you are lucky enough to be the first to apply for a patent, it will be a long time before you receive the official patent. It is not unusual for it to take up to three years to be awarded a patent by the USPTO (they’ve put together a list of the eight-step process you’ll need to follow if you want to be awarded a patent).
Just because you apply for a patent does not mean that your company will experience an immediate dramatic increase in value.
That doesn’t mean, though, that patents aren’t important. The value in applying for a patent is that it grants you the sole right to use the product, plant, design or process you’ve developed for a given number of years. It gives you a temporary monopoly. Your company value will not inherently
increase just because you have a patent; rather, holding a patent allows you to solely reap profits that would otherwise go to your competitors for your invention. It also shows potential investors in your company that you really do own what you say you own.
So, while a patent does not guarantee that you will become rich, and being awarded one is a slow process – the benefits still outweigh those few challenges. Applying for a patent ensures that your invention or invented process can only be used by you, so that you can be the only one who can capitalize on the resulting profits. With careful planning and a clear understanding of what a patent will and will not grant you, you can more completely reap the benefits of your hard work.
Bobby Klinck is an intellectual property attorney, but he’s not your typical lawyer. Sure, he went to Harvard Law School and worked at some of the most prestigious firms in the country, but if you look at the big whiteboard in his office, you won’t see much about the law. His whiteboard is filled with tasks related to platform building, inbound marketing, and sales-funnels. Bobby is a full-fledged online entrepreneur, whose area of expertise is the law.