How to Know if You Should Obtain a Patent

Intellectual Property and Obtaining a Patent

So, you have started working on a cool product or software and want to get it patented. How do patents work? And can they actually protect your intellectual property? Patents have an expiration term of about 20 years from the original date of application, meaning if you get it approved, a patent will protect your IP for a very long time.

That being said, not everything is eligible for patent protection. As a patent lawyer, we can help you understand what good reasons to patent are, and how long the process might take.

Questions to Ask Before you File for a Patent

There are a few important questions you should ask yourself before filing for a patent. The first, of course, is this:

Is this actually eligible for a patent?

If you don’t know, feel free to ask a patent lawyer. If it is eligible for a patent, what kind? (a patent lawyer can also help with this.) This is the most important question because there are some things that simply cannot be patented. For example, you cannot patent a mathematical formula, or a principle of science such as conductivity. Ideas are also not patentable. There must be a working application of an idea, even if it is a prototype. Though patent law is a bit fluid and changes from time to time, there are some general standards of what can be patented. Patents fall into four categories (which we will talk about later): process, machine, manufacture, and composition of matter. In any of these categories, it is required to demonstrate “a useful improvement thereof.” That can be a new part for a machine, a new step in a process, or a new ingredient in the manufacturing of a product.

Do I NEED a patent? Will it actually help my business?

Patenting is a long and sometimes expensive process. Even if a patent is possible, it doesn’t always mean it’s a good idea. Think of a patent as giving you protection for your “property.” In addition to the protection comes the necessary steps of continuously protecting against those who choose to infringe on a patent. Proving infringement can be a complicated process in some situations, and a waste of time and money. Think long and hard about if a patent would actually help your business. If so, contact a patent lawyer to help you get started.

One last note here, some patents are simply not ethical. For example, Volvo could have easily secured a patent for their (then) proprietary 3-point seat belt. It was much safer for drivers and added extreme value to a car. However, Volvo decided that a 3 point seat belt had more value in saving lives than in a patent for their company, and so they opened the technology to the market. Sometimes the ethical thing is not to patent.

Is my invention unique or novel enough to get patent protected?

We have been doing this for a long time, and just to be straight with you, usually the answer is no. Most of the people who come to us with ideas or products they want patented do not have an idea that is unique or different enough to receive a patent. The USPTO requires all patents to be unique and non-obvious. Do extensive research before attempting to file for a patent. If you would like help with this research, contact a patent lawyer.

What is my budget? How much am I willing to spend?

If you have made it through to this question and are serious about getting something patented, decide how much you are willing to spend. A patent application is a long-term commitment that often takes years to complete. Contact a patent lawyer to get the filing process started, and to understand what you can do while you wait. Start with a provisional patent if your budget is tight. Provisional patents lack a lot of the formalities and protections as a full patent, but are a good start none the less. The biggest advantage of a provisional patent is that it gives you an earlier filing date.

If you are ready for a patent, let’s talk. They can be an incredible way to protect your business.

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