If you have a great idea, you have probably thought about getting a patent but have not had the knowledge of how to put this into an action plan. I will provide a brief layman’s overview of the basics of obtaining a patent. This is not meant to be legal advice, and my intended audience is people who want a basic understanding of how to patent their idea. You will have to hire an IP (Intellectual property) or patent attorney for evaluation of your idea and to obtain any legal advice or steps necessary to obtain a patent.
I will speak of the US patent process as this will be of the most interest to the US audience. If your idea is truly an invention as defined by the USPTO, it will most likely fall into one of two categories – a design patent or a utility patent. Of course your invention will have to be novel or new, which means that it can not be described any place that publishes information that is available to the public.
If your idea is similar to how to build a better mousetrap it will be a design patent. If your idea is more of an idea how to catch a mouse, lure a mouse into a trap or a better manufacturing method for making mousetraps it will be a utility patent.
Utility patents are the more difficult ones to pursue. In order to get a patent, you will have to do what is called reduction to practice. What this means is that you will have to be able to describe your invention in complete detail so that another person would be able to take your instructions and develop the invention. That means if it is an electronic device, you would need to be able to describe ho to build the device including the electronic components needed to make the device actually work. You will probably not need to be extremely precise, such as saying capacitor C319-21 from Electrodyno Components INC, but would need to be able spell out general components such as circuit board xyz which controls the keypad for the device. What is required by the patent office in the reduction to practice is that the information that you provide is enough to one skilled in the art (such as an electronics technician) would be able to put the components together and make a working device.
Similarly, if your idea is a method of doing something which has a use, such as a new method of taking payments from customers, you would need to describe all of the steps so that another person could follow your instructions and complete the useful task that you want to perform, including software or items necessary to complete the take and how they will accomplish the task.
Design patents are much easier. You will have to be able to clearly draw out all of the aspects of your designed item, including components needed and how they will work together.
Some basic tips. If you have an idea, you need to document it on paper and have it signed, dated and witnessed by at least one other reputable person. Be careful who you tell about your invention and how you disclose information. Once you write it down in a place that is accessible to the public, you risk not only someone else stealing the idea, but also the novelty aspect of the invention. Other than your witnesses, you should probably not tell anyone or anything about your idea until after you have discussed it with a qualified attorney.
Also, once you get to the stage of speaking to an attorney, you will need to think about all of the ways that someone else might try to use your invention or work around your invention to steal it. The better you can describe all of the ways it might be used or useful, the better you can protect your invention with the help of your attorney. Even if you are not able to finance or manufacture your invention you may still be able to benefit from patent protection by licensing your invention to those who can carry out your invention.