If you've recently invented something (or simply refined an existing invention) that you believe could make quite a splash in the retail market, you may be wondering about your next steps. You're probably aware that you'll need to patent your invention to prevent it from being co-opted by other would-be inventors -- but how does this process work?
And can you patent your idea or specific technology, or just the item itself? Read on to learn more about the laws governing your ability to patent and profit from an item or technology you've created:
How does the patent process work?
There are a few specific steps you'll need to take before you can declare your invention "patent pending."
First, you'll need to search the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database of patented inventions and technology to ensure that your item hasn't already been patented by someone else. This database includes both text and pictures to make it easier for you to compare your item against those that are already under patent.
Determine your patent type
Once you've checked the patent database, your next step is to determine which type of patent you're seeking. There are several applications available -- design patents, plant patents, and utility patents. If you've invented an item or technology designed for use in a personal or commercial context, you'll probably want to file an application for utility patent.
You'll also need to evaluate whether your invention is in danger of being copied by businesses or individuals only in the U.S., or worldwide. The patent process for a U.S.-only application is generally a bit quicker and more streamlined than an international patent, but it won't provide protections against those in other countries who copy your invention -- even if the items are eventually shipped and sold in the U.S.
Fill out the proper applications
Finally, you'll fill out the patent application and go through the rigorous interview and registration process. USPTO representatives will need to interview you (to ensure that you didn't take the patent idea or technology from someone else) and evaluate the utility of your patent to determine whether the agency will choose to approve your patent. This process can be lengthy, and you may be best served by seeking assistance from someone experienced in the process.
Should you get an attorney before filing for patent protection?
Although you're able to file a patent pro se (without an attorney), the USPTO and most private organizations will recommend that you use a patent attorney for this process. Your attorney will be able to gather and summarize the relevant data needed by USPTO, shortening their review process, and will serve as a liaison between you and the patent officers to reduce the likelihood of miscommunication.