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Technically, you cannot patent an idea alone. But if you follow the right process, you can take a good idea and eventually patent it. This will not be a problem if you follow the step-by-step process explained in this guide.
Why patent an idea is worth it
Patents are essential to secure a new invention. You can use a patent to legally protect products, designs or processes that meet specific criteria. Usually, a patent can protect your idea for up to 20 years.
Once the patent is granted, you have the exclusive right to make, use or sell an invention. This essentially gives you a monopoly-like advantage over your idea.
You can use a patent to stop competitors from doing things that violate your patent. Or you could potentially sell the rights to use your invention to other companies and secure significant profits just for the idea.
If someone infringes your patent, you could potentially sue them for a significant amount. However, it is worth noting that attorney fees associated with bringing someone to court for a patent infringement can be expensive.
The investment is necessary to get a patent on an idea
It is not cheap to get a patent on your idea. As you will soon discover, you actually need to create a prototype for your patent before you can file anything to protect it. The investment required here varies considerably depending on the complexity of your idea.
It usually takes between 18 and 24 months to receive a patent in the United States. You will probably need to invest at least $ 10,000 to $ 25,000 in this process.
Patenting an idea is much easier if you use an online legal service like LegalZoom. The service guides you through the process of obtaining a utility patent or a design patent. They offer consultations with a USPTO-registered patent attorney, patent applications, technical illustration assistance, application preparation, and electronic filing.
You can even use LegalZoom to file a preliminary patent – defend your idea against the competition while working on the paperwork. This lets you market your idea as “patent pending” until the actual patent is officially obtained.
LegalZoom’s provisional patent services start at just $ 199 plus filing fees. Auxiliary patent services and design patent services start at $ 699 and $ 899, respectively.
6 steps to patent an idea
Ready to patent your idea? Follow the step-by-step instructions below.
Step 1 – Make sure the idea is eligible for a patent
Before proceeding with a long and expensive process, make sure that your idea meets the requirements of a patent.
Not all ideas or inventions can be patented. You can refer to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for the complete requirements, but here is a general summary to steer you in the right direction:
All patents must be new and non-obvious, which means that the idea or invention must be completely new. If someone else invented your idea before or described it in a patent application, your idea is not eligible for a patent. cannot combine two known or obvious things in a patent. There must be something unique about your idea or a proprietary way you combine them. An idea for an invention cannot be too abstract. Let us e.g. Say you want to patent a mathematical formula. If the formula is not directly linked to an application or process, the idea is not patentable. Your concept must have a reality and application to be justified. Natural discoveries are not eligible for a patent. For example, if you hike and find a new animal in the forest that has never been discovered before, you can not patent it. The use of your patent must be clearly defined and non-speculative. If you use a powerful plant extract to formulate an anti-aging cream, you can not speculate that higher doses of the extract will cure cancer. You need to define the scope of how it works to obtain a patent on the latter.
Provided your idea meets the criteria so far, you can go ahead and see what type of patent your idea qualifies for. In the United States, three different types of patents can be issued:
Auxiliary patents – Approximately 90% of all issued patents are utility patents. These are for inventions of a process, machine, fabric compositions or manufacturing systems that are new and useful. You can also get a utility patent for improvements to an existing process. Design patent – Design patents must have the “surface ornamentation” of an object. To obtain this type of patent, the design and subject matter must be inseparable. In short, utility patents protect the way an idea works, and design patents protect the way it looks. Plant patent – Plant patents are issued for new and distinctive plants that can be reproduced asexually. This means that instead of the plant reproducing with a seed, you can propagate it by cutting or grafting the plant. Asexual reproduction is the proof required for the person applying for the patent to actually reproduce the plant.
The last part of checking the legitimacy of the idea is by running a patent application. This ensures that there is no existing patent on your idea or any pending applications that are too similar to yours.
LegalZoom offers patent pending services from just $ 299.
Step 2 – Save a detailed overview of everything
As mentioned earlier, an idea alone is not enough for a patent. You may also need to back up that the idea is your own.
To do this, record your entire thought process in a journal or notebook along with other evidence you have. From raw notes to sketches, corrections, mistakes and more, all of this could help defend that it was you who came up with this new idea.
Every page of your notes and record must be signed and dated. If possible, one or two witnesses should also sign the pages.
Getting others to sign your notes means you reveal your idea. While it would be nice to trust these people, you should have them sign NDAs (confidentiality agreements) to legally prevent them from sharing what they have seen.
This is especially crucial if you have other people working on the concept with you.
Let’s say you have employees or contractors performing tasks on your behalf. The NDA and the contract should clarify that all work done against your idea is owned by you and you alone. Their role in the process does not give them the rights to the patent or its profits.
In addition to patent services, LegalZoom is also an excellent resource for a wide range of contracts and templates, including NDAs.
Step 3 – Make a prototype
You should have a prototype or model of your idea prepared before submitting the papers for a patent. Again, you can not just patent an idea – more is needed.
The prototype should be something tangible that you can show to someone. For example, if your idea is an invention of something you want to license or present to investors for financing, give them more than one idea.
In addition to the requirements of the patent itself, making a prototype can help with your idea. By bringing this idea to life, you may discover bugs or areas that need improvement that were not considered when the idea was just a thought or word on a sheet of paper.
The best way to create a prototype is to start with an accurate drawing. The images will also be used during the patent application process.
Drawing your idea for a patent requires more than just an amateur sketch. It is highly recommended that you use a professional patent drawing service.
Starting at just $ 399, you can use LegalZoom for this process.
All you have to do is fill out a simple online questionnaire about your idea. Then upload your sketches, photos and images of your idea that the professional artist will use for inspiration. Then just sit back and wait for LegalZoom to send you the finished technical drawings of your idea.
Step 4 – Apply for a provisional patent
Some of you may have a good idea, but you are not quite ready to defend it with a patent application yet. If you need a little extra time to prepare the application, you can apply for a provisional patent instead.
With a preliminary patent application, you can protect your idea for up to a year while completing the details of your official application.
Basically, this keeps your place in line with the USPTO, which prevents others from getting rights to the idea before you.
You can use LegalZoom to file a preliminary patent application. From just $ 199 plus application fees, it’s the easiest way to get a temporary patent online.
The service has been used to grant “patent pending” status more than 65,000 times, so you know it’s a reputable service you can trust.
Some of the information required for this application includes:
Title of the idea and the invention Name and address of the inventor or inventors Official correspondence address Summary of the idea Background of the idea A detailed description of the idea US state interests / ownership (if applicable)
Drawings are optional, but they are highly recommended to make sure things go smoothly. Therefore, we recommend having professional technical drawings made during the prototype process in the previous step.
Step 5 – Hire a Patent Attorney
With something as important as a patent, it is always in your best interest to hire a lawyer.
Remember that this is a long and expensive process. You will not spend two years of your life and up to $ 25,000 just to have your application rejected by the USPTO.
A patent attorney helps ensure that your idea is patentable and helps you review everything else to ensure its validity. Patents are useless if you cannot defend your idea in court against someone infringing your patent. An attorney will help ensure that the patent is bulletproof.
LegalZoom offers a lawyer consultation during its two-step patent application process. You will talk to a USPTO registered agent over the phone to discuss your idea. It’s the first step in the process, which also includes technical illustrations and an optional patent application – from $ 699.
In addition to the attorney consultations available with LegalZoom’s patent service, you can also hire an independent attorney directly through this platform.
Step 6 – File your patent application
Now you need to file and file the patent application. If you followed each step above, you are ready for this when that time comes.
Again, if you have just filed a preliminary patent and you are still working on the idea, the official patent application will have to wait. You have up to a year to work on your idea in the “patent pending” phase, but the sooner you can apply, the better.
You can always file your patent application on your own through the USPTO website. The instructions are relatively easy to follow.
However, we recommend using the lawyer you retained in the previous step to assist with this process. This is another reason why LegalZoom is so useful for patenting an idea.
If you sign up for LegalZoom’s two-part patent service, the application itself is part two.
You will receive a follow-up consultation with a USPTO-registered lawyer who will prepare up to two drafts of the application. This attorney will also file the completed application electronically directly with the USPTO.
It is a waiting game after the application is submitted. Patent approval can take up to two years after you apply.
In the meantime, you should consider starting a business if you have not already done so. You can use the company to create, sell or license your idea. See our step-by-step guide on setting up a business for further instructions.
Our brand-building guide is another useful resource to help you market your idea, even if it is in the “patent pending” stage.