How to Patent an Idea or Product in 3 Key Stages

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by Rod Dunne on November 11, 2011

in Entrepreneurial

For years, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, or USPTO, has been chiefly involved with intellectual property patent law and with granting patents to amateur and experienced inventors alike within the US. And if you’ve ever need to patent a concept, a new product design or idea then this is where you simply had to go.

In this post, I’ll step you through the application process along with its pitfalls and key points you simply cannot miss out on.

The USPTO has advanced the manufacturing and industrial world, but it is the creators of many great products who have enabled this progress in America. While many people may be curious about how to patent an idea or product, it is somewhat difficult to obtain a patent and only passionate patent seekers should try.

Don’t you just use an agent? Making a proper start..

That being said, if a petitioner is truly intent on patenting an idea for his invention he can hire an agent or attorney to help him begin patenting an invention. There are a few things that one should know before he begins, including:

  • the difference between a patent and a copyright,
  • the difference between a provisional and a non provisional patent and
  • some of the basic laws and steps that are involved in obtaining a patent or copyright

While an attorney can best explain the details of the process to a petitioner, some basic research can help budding inventors get started. Critically, you need to start instigating these steps long before your new product launches in order to safeguard your concepts.

Step 1: Is a patent even needed?

The first step to filing an application for a patent is to be certain that a patent is truly required. A patent, it should be noted, does not give the inventor the right to sell, use or make his invention; it merely eliminates the right of others to make, use, or sell the product without the express consent of the inventor.

You may already have a strong sense of ethics in business, but your competition may not. Your patent is there to stop others profiting from the concepts and ideas you have uniquely identified.

Many people wondering ‘Can you patent an idea?’ should be aware that if they have only an idea for an invention, and not the working invention itself, they cannot get a patent. A patent can be obtained for almost anything that can be made and the process for making it, but the your unique business ideas alone are not enough for the USPTO to grant a patent.

The more appropriate concern would be how to copyright an idea. A copyright protects the authors of most published and unpublished works, including but not limited to books, essays, musical compositions, etc. Of course, a copyright is only valid for the specific content matter of a work, and not the subject matter. A copyright can be obtained at the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.

Step 2: Decide on what type of patent you need

Once the need for a patent has been established, an applicant should know what type of patent would be required. There are three basic types: a design patent, a plant patent, and a utility patent.

  • The utility patent, which includes anything that can be manufactured and the processes for manufacture, is the most common type. The USPTO has certain criteria for determining whether or not a utility patent can be granted.
  • A product must be new, which is defined by the USPTO as something that has not previously been used, sold, printed, or otherwise known in the United States. It must also be recognizably different from any other product that is patented. Therefore a minor change in a product, such as color, size, or shape, is usually not grounds for granting a patent.

These same basic rules apply to design and plant patents as well, with some small adjustments.

In larger firms you’ll find it is now popular to use idea management systems and software tools for securely protecting different algorithms, designs and analysis work relating to new potential patents for products. These tools also provide a way of date stamping any knowledge and data/metadata relating to your ideas. This information can be invaluable at later stage if patients are queried, questioned or challenged in a court of law.

Sub-categories for utility patents

Within the utility patent category there are two subcategories. A petitioner may file for a provisional patent application or a non provisional patent application. A provisional patent application is less commonly used because it must lead to a non provisional application.

The provisional application is a lower cost alternative which, if granted, gives the applicant the right to include the phrase patent pending with his invention. It also does not require an oath with the application. However, a provisional patent only lasts twelve months, during which time a non provisional patent application must be filed or all patent rights will be lost.

Most applications filed are for non provisional patents, which cost more but are also more lasting. These applications have extensive rules for filing. They must be typewritten in English, include patent forms and letters, fee forms and fees, detailed descriptions and drawings (if necessary) of the invention, and a sworn oath by the inventor that he is the creator of the product or process for which he is applying.

Unfortunately, this is only the tip of the iceberg of specifications for filing. There are also rules about the type of paper used, the typeset, the ink, the margins of the forms, and even more that an applicant should be able to adhere to. All in all a petitioner could need to file a small book for an application, and should either have pre-existing knowledge of the process or hire an attorney who knows how to patent an idea or product to help him file

… It’s for this very reason that copyright agents are often used along with an attorney specializing in copyright/patent law. You could try doing it yourself but missing out critical information could see your application repeatedly returned to you for amendments (something which code drag out the application process for months).

Step 3:  File your application!

Once all of these steps have been completed, the application may be filed electronically or by mail.

Because the patent laws are frequently amended to meet the changing demands of the inventing world, an applicant wondering how much does it cost to patent an idea or product should check with the USPTO. However, one can generally expect to pay up to four hundred dollars.

After filing, the USPTO will examine the application to determine whether an invention meets all the requirements of the particular patent for which an inventor is applying.

  • If the application is rejected an appeal may be filed.
  • An accepted application requires more fees – the issue fee and the publication fee – before the patent is actually granted. Because a non provisional patent lasts twenty years, maintenance fees will also be due three, five, and eleven years after the patent is granted.

Just remember this: A patent pursuer who understands how to get a patent should have no difficulty filing an application. With a little research and help from an agent or lawyer who knows how to patent an idea or product, these patenting steps should soon lead to a patent for any new, different, and useful invention or discovery. The USPTO website details further rules and regulations for patent applications, and is frequently updated to include new or changed rules and fee schedules.

Author Rod Dunne...

Blog owner and sole writer Rod DunneI am the owner and sole writer on This is my personal blog detailing troubleshooting tips for small businesses. Posts are based upon 2 decades in consultancy & innovation management within startups/maturing companies.

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{ 1 comment }

Admin November 17, 2011 at 7:04 pm

The absolute cheapest way to do it is to implement or build the idea yourself!

A prime example of this is the Dyson vacuum cleaner. Its creator worked financed completely by himself. He would then visit various electronics companies trying to get them interested in producing anticyclone powered vacuum cleaners.

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