How to get an Invention
Patent and Patent Help
- Six Things to Know About Patents
- Patent Research & Referrals
- Learn About Prototyping
- Brutally Honest Review & Licensing Opportunities
- Ask Questions: firstname.lastname@example.org
When you begin thinking about your invention idea there is a lot you can and should do on your own. Searching the web and then checking Google Patents are fantastic first steps and they're free. But the next steps are expensive, such as making a formal prototype, filing for a non-provisional utility patent, buying tooling for manufacturing and paying for inventory. Professional help in confirming that your invention doesn't violate the patent rights of others and has a good chance of making a return on your investment is worth many times the cost.
Note: We're not lawyers and we don't give legal advice or handle patent filings or litigation. We're experienced inventors with a track record of success and work with the world's best patent researchers to find prior art and give practical advice on what to do with it. Our opinions will help you make good business decisions at a fraction of the cost of a full service law firm. For patent filings and non-infringement opinions that will have legal standing in a courtroom, we refer you to the patent attorneys and agents we work with ourselves.
First Things First
Patents don't cover ideas. They cover details, the details necessary to turn ideas into products that are manufactured, used and sold. Almost anything can get a patent if the patent claims cover details that are narrow and specific enough. What every inventor should want is a meaningful patent. A meaningful patent covers the lowest cost and/or best way to provide the invention's benefits to users; a meaningful patent covers details that competitors will want to copy.
Prior to building a prototype, if you have clear ideas on how the invention might function, we believe it's a good idea to file a provisional patent application (there are downsides to be aware of). Having a provisional in place enables you to claim "patent pending" and can make it less risky to perform market surveys. Because details are important we generally suggest that you file a non-provisional utility patent only after you've built a prototype of your invention rather than before. You'll learn a lot from the prototype and may end up filing an entirely new patent filled with new material. While much can be done by an inventor alone, at this stage it's time to get a patent agent or attorney involved. Complying with patent laws is complicated and mistakes at this stage can have devastating effects if your invention is successful and ends up being challenged in court.
But patent filing issues come later. At the beginning stage there are really just two questions an inventor needs to answer:
- Can I get a patent? (Patentability Opinion).
- Can I make and sell my invention without violating someone else's patent? (Right to Use Opinion)
If you or your lawyer/agent identifies patent claims that might "read" on your invention you will likely also want a Non-infringement Opinion (does your invention violate claims of a specific patent?) and possibly a Validity Opinion (is a patent you might violate validly issued?).
Answers to all of these questions begin with searches of prior art patents, products and literature. If your invention idea can't be found in prior art, you should be pretty much good to go. Pretty much. Nothing is certain about a patent until it's been fully tested in court and appeals. Many times we hear from inventors that they've searched for prior art on their own and found nothing similar. That is almost never true and usually means that the inventor has looked in the wrong places - that's a great reason to hire a professional to do a prior art search for you.
The cost of a prior art search and patentability opinion can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. The price range reflects the complexity of the technology being searched, the thoroughness of the search and who is "officially" doing the searching. One of the secrets of the legal profession is that patent search work is often outsourced to India where brilliant and experienced researchers do work that is later blessed and branded by an attorney or agent for many times the cost. The cost of a professional prior art search and opinions for a simple consumer-type product can range from $225 (Invention City's service) to $10,000 for a premium patent attorney (and depending on the kinds of opinions you need). Most patent search services charge around $500. For an initial search the lower cost services do a great job. As your requirements get more serious, it can be well worth paying a premium price.
As a reality check keep in mind that a simple mechanical patent typically costs between $10,000 and $20,000 by the time it issues. There's a big difference between "a patent" and "a good patent." Patent help is expensive but if your invention finds great commercial success it's worth every penny.
"Prior art" is a term that describes things that are publicly known. Prior art cannot be patented. However, since patents are about unique details, prior art that superficially overlaps the broad concept of the invention may not prevent a patent from being issued on the details of that invention. Knowledge of prior art can help to improve an invention - that, in fact, is one of the main reasons for the entire patent system. Researching prior art is the first step to getting a patent. Patent research is hard to do well and professional help is worth the expense. However, in the early stages, even inexperienced inventors can benefit greatly by visiting the USPTO website and doing some preliminary research. On the home page under "Patents", click on "Search" and then on "Quick Search". Once there you will see blank boxes for Term 1 and Term 2. Enter a single word that describes your invention in each box. To the right of the key word box you will see a menu box for each Field. Open the menu boxes and set them to "Abstract" for each term. The Abstract is a summary of the invention and is a good place to start your search. Click here to go directly to the USPTO Quick Search Page.
Learn About Invention Protection
- Protecting Your Invention - Invention City Article - Summary information on basic issues and methods for protecting an invention.
- Patent Defense - Invention City Article
- A Patent is as Strong as its Claims - Invention City Article provided by Registered Patent Agent Scott Keeley
- Confidentiality Agreement Review - Invention City Article. Learn about the most basic tool of invention protection. Examples provided.
- The Disclosure Dilemma - Invention City Article. You need to talk about the invention to move it forward. How do you do that without giving away the store?
- Inventing: First Steps - Invention City President Mike Marks tells you how to protect, evaluate and prototype your invention on a tight budget - (book offer).
- Do It Yourself Patent Course - An 11-hour instructional DVD set taught by Andrew Knight, J.D., Registered Patent Agent, a graduate of MIT and Georgetown Law, a university instructor, and the inventor of 13 issued U.S. Patents and 15 pending patent applications. Available free on YouTube.
- Overview of Patent Law - Brief 1-page summary of patent law from Cornell Law School.
- United States Patent and Trademark Office - The USPTO web site is a must visit for every inventor.
- Patent It Yourself - David Pressman's classic belongs on every inventor's bookshelf. It provides an in-depth understanding of the patent process and will help you make intelligent decisions regardless of whether or not you actually do it yourself. The cost is $39.96. The value is easily twice that much.
- Handbook for Inventors - Basic information provided free by MIT
- Legal Evaluation - The law offices of Brown, Pinnisi & Michaels, PC offer a series of questions that you should consider, prior to attempting to patent your invention. Read Invention City's answers to the 4 questions posed by Brown & Michaels.
- So, you have an idea? The Franklin Pierce Law Center provides a fabulous discussion of how to protect your idea before you begin to discuss it with potential buyers.
- Did Edison Knock Off the Light Bulb? Electrically charged article from Einsteinsfrig.com
- Google Patents is a great place top start a patent search..
- United States Patent and Trademark Office - Currently you can search through full text patents issued since 1976. Full page images may be viewed going back to 1790
- Pat2PDF.org - This site is a fantastic resource when you want to view or print a copy of a patent complete with drawings. This is not a site for searches. Enter a patent number and the patent is retrieved in Adobe pdf format.
- IP Tool Bar - One stop resource for all forms of intellectual property research: patents, trademarks, copyrights, domain names... US and worldwide. Nicely done.
- PatentHunter - Software program that downloads and manages United States patent images. Free Trial Version available.
- Delphion - Slick tool for searching patents by key word and phrase back to 1971. You need Adobe Acrobat Reader installed to view images of patent front pages.
- LawCrawler - Contains an index of legal subjects, cases and codes, and various legal associations, in addition to basic searching.
- The European Patent Office - Provides the ability to search through its patents. Beware that patent law differs amongst countries.
- VersusLaw - Provides full-text opinions from Federal and State Appellate Courts, dating back to 1950.
- Software Patent Institute - Database includes computer manuals, old textbooks and journal articles, conference proceedings, computer science theses, and other materials dating back to 1955.
- Ag Biotechnology Patents and New Technologies - Database of the USDA Biotechnology Information Center, which provides full-text listings of agricultural biotechnology patents dating back to 1994.
- The Write Stuff offers quality patent illustration services for inventors and patent attorneys, as well as 3D virtual prototyping services.
- Patent Drafting Company offers high quality low cost patent illustration services for independent inventors.
- United States Patent and Trademark Office - Once again, the USPTO is a great resource.