Does My Great Idea Qualify For Patent Protection?

It’s easy enough to come up with a great idea. But, what next? After you come up with that novel idea for a product, system, or business, you may wonder what steps you should take to protect your intellectual property. A patent is one tool you can use to protect your idea from being stolen. And while filing your patent with the USPTO isn’t necessarily complicated, what is challenging is the process of determining whether your idea qualifies for patent protection in the first place. 

The U.S. Patent: What It Is, and What It Is Not

Patents are protected by the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8, which grants Congress the power to promote the progress of science and arts by imposing certain protections for authors and inventors. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is responsible for providing the means of protection for inventors. In short, a patent protects inventions, discoveries, or improvements to processes, machines, manufacturing, or composition of matter by prohibiting the unauthorized manufacture, selling, or importing of the invention. Obtaining a patent for an invention or discovery gives the inventor the assurance that no one else may use or reproduce his or her idea or invention without permission. 

There are three types of patents: utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. 

1.     A utility patent applies to processes, machines, articles of manufacture, and composition of matter.

2.     A design patent applies to the new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.

3.     A plant patent applies to distinct and new plant varieties, whether invented, discovered, or asexually reproduced.

While most new and useful inventions, discoveries, or improvements to processes, machines, manufacturing, or composition of matter can be patented, the courts have placed some limits on patents. A patent cannot be obtained for an idea. A complete, detailed description of the concept for which a patent is sought must be specified. Further, the laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas cannot be patented.

Obtaining a Patent

The inventor(s) or a person acting on behalf of the inventor may apply for a patent. When an invention is a joint venture, all individuals responsible for the invention may apply for the patent together as joint inventors. However, an investor is not the same thing as an inventor. Only inventors can hold a patent as joint inventors.   

The process of obtaining and maintaining a patent is complicated and can be costly. For instance, the cost of obtaining a utility patent can range from $10,000 to $25,000. However, if you qualify for small entity or micro entity status, you may be able to reduce your cost by fifty or seventy-five percent, respectively. If you are registered through USPTO to file your application online, you may also save on the $400 non-electronic filing fee.

To apply for a patent, inventors must submit a nonprovisional application to the Director of the USPTO. The application must include a written document with specific descriptions and claims, drawings when appropriate, a signed oath or declaration, and applicable fees which include the cost of filing, search, and examination. Generally, a patent is granted for a term of twenty years during which the patent holder must pay maintenance fees. 

Applicants can apply for a provisional patent which is a quicker, less expensive option to protect an idea; however, a provisional patent is only temporary. Provisional patents are issued for twelve-month terms only, during which the inventor should apply for a nonprovisional patent. 

The USPTO is responsible for issuing patents. This federal office reviews, grants, and publishes patents. It also maintains records and provides a search room for the public to explore patents. Once a patent application is submitted, individuals from the assigned USPTO technology center will review the application and determine whether a patent should be granted. Rejected applications can be appealed to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.

Hiring a Patent Lawyer

The process for obtaining a patent is highly technical.  Applications must be detailed and carefully completed to satisfy a rigid list of requirements. The specification must be structured in a specific order and there are strict guidelines for drawings from the ink used to the use of shading, symbols, and margins. In fact, the business of patents is so complex, attorneys must obtain additional licensure to handle these matters. Simply being an attorney is insufficient to establish that an individual has the knowledge and experience necessary to represent an inventor before the United States Patent and Trademark Office. 

While inventors may prepare and file their own patent applications, it is wise to enlist the assistance of an experienced patent attorney who is familiar with patent law and the applicable rules, procedures, and scientific or technical matters involved. Applying for a patent without the guidance of an attorney does not mean the patent will not be granted, but it does leave more room for error, increasing the risk that an inventor’s hard work will not be adequately protected. 

For more information about U.S. patents, visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office website here or contact a patent attorney.

If you have specific questions about your product or business ideas, reach out to one of our attorneys for a consultation. At Green Mistretta Law, we are committed to delivering the best possible results for our clients and take pride in offering superior legal counsel. Give us a call or reach out to us online to learn more.

This article does not establish an attorney-client relationship and must not be construed as legal advice.