A lot of time, money and research goes into the development and production of a new product. For this reason, it’s vitally important that your new invention is patented so that your investment in the product and its subsequent marketing remain within your control.
Many new inventors and product creators find this all a bit daunting though so we have gathered together some of the main things you need to consider to get started on this process. We will answer some common questions like ‘Why patent an invention?’, ‘What is a patent?’ and ‘How to file a patent?’ as well as looking at things like a provisional patent application and the different types of patent.
Although the detailed process is quite complicated and beyond the scope of an article like this, we will lay it out in such a way that you have a step-by-step overview of the important factors to look out for to set you on the path to getting your invention patented.
- 1 Why Patent an Invention?
- 2 So What is a Patent?
- 3 Factors to Consider Before Applying for a Patent.
- 4 Is Your Product Unique?
- 5 Make Sure You Have a Complete Prototype.
- 6 Do Your Market Research Thoroughly.
- 7 Determine Your Manufacturing Costs.
- 8 How to Determine if Your Product is Patentable.
- 9 What Type of Patent Do You Need?
- 10 How Do You Apply for A Patent?
- 11 What Is a Provisional Patent Application?
- 12 How Do You File a Patent Application?
- 13 What Documents Do You Need to Prepare Before a Non-Provisional Application?
- 14 What Happens Once the Patent Is Granted?
- 15 Final Thoughts on Why to Patent an Invention
Why Patent an Invention?
Once you’ve invented a new product or process, you may ask yourself “Why should I patent my invention?” There are actually a number of good reasons as to why you should apply for a patent your new product, which we’re going to take a look at below.
1) Exclusive Rights to Manufacture and Sell Your Product.
With a patent, you’ll have the peace of mind that your invention is protected by law and cannot be reproduced by others who have not invested the time and money to develop the original idea. You can have your product manufactured and marketed in any way you see fit and thus enjoy the monetary returns that your invention will bring.
If someone else does infringe on the patented product by producing a ‘knock-off‘ you will have the right to prosecute and have the copied product taken off the market.
2) You Can License Your Product.
With a patent, you can license the production and marketing of your product to another company and ask for royalty payments on every product sold. This means you can be free to invent more new products or processes but will still be rewarded, sometimes for many years, for your already patented invention.
3) You Can Sell Your Patent.
If you’re more interested in developing new products rather than manufacturing and marketing ones you’ve already invented, then selling your patent to a particular product will give you the necessary funds to invest in future product research and development.
So What is a Patent?
Generally speaking, a patent only applies to the country or countries where it has been granted. It gives the owner of a new invention complete and total rights to prohibit anyone else from producing, importing or selling the invention without the owner’s permission.
In simple terms, it protects the invention from being copied and then marketed, quite often at a cheaper price, because the company who has copied the new product has not had to invest in research and development.
A patent can be applied to a new product or even a new technical process or improvement. Once granted, the patent will stay in effect for up to 20 years as long as annual renewal fees are paid by the inventor. The actual term depends on the type of patent.
The patent owner is able to give permission to other parties to use the invention or may even sell the patent. After the patent expires, the invention will enter the public domain and then anyone is able to produce and market the product or process without infringing the owner rights.
Factors to Consider Before Applying for a Patent.
Before applying for a patent, you need to ensure that your product is a viable business opportunity. Do your market research first so that you avoid spending time and money on acquiring a patent for a product that may not have enough demand to make it a long-term viable proposition. Here are a number of factors you need to consider before applying for a patent:
Is Your Product Unique?
You should always conduct a preliminary patent search to ensure that your product does not infringe on anyone else’s patent. You can easily perform this search yourself online or even hire a patent specialist to do it for you.
Make Sure You Have a Complete Prototype.
Ensure you have a complete prototype made of the new product and it has been tested to perform in the way that you intended. Your prototype should be as close as possible in specifications and materials to the final product as it can be difficult to change mechanics or materials once your patent has been filed.
Do Your Market Research Thoroughly.
Make sure that you have defined your target market and that the product will have enough demand to make it viable. There’s no point in patenting a product that will have limited marketability.
Determine Your Manufacturing Costs.
Ensure that your manufacturing costs will leave enough margin for profit making when the product goes on sale. If your target market is not willing to pay the price that you need to sell your product for, then production is not viable.
How to Determine if Your Product is Patentable.
Before you can apply for a patent, your product must satisfy three key criteria:
- Your invention must be ‘new‘ and not publicly known in any way, anywhere in the world. You need to ensure that you keep your invention secret until such time as your patent application has been filed. If you do need to tell a possible investor about your invention, then you need to ensure that they sign a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement, otherwise, you may not be granted a patent.
- Your invention must involve an improvement over any existing product that is already available in the general marketplace. This improvement must not be obvious to anyone who is skilled or has knowledge in the particular field which the invention is intended for.
- Your invention must have a practical application either in commercial or business use.
What Type of Patent Do You Need?
The next step in the application process is to decide what type of patent you need. There are three main types of patents that you can apply for depending on your invention.
- Utility Patent.
A Utility patent is the most common type of patent which is applied for and is intended for products or processes which have a useful application.
- Design Patent.
The Design patent is primarily for new, original and ornamental designs for products.
- Plant Patent.
A Plant patent may be granted to anyone who discovers or invents a new and distinct variety of plant which has been asexually reproduced by the inventor.
How Do You Apply for A Patent?
A patent can be applied for at a national patent office or a regional office depending on which country you are lodging the application for. Currently, there is no universal or international system available for granting patents so it is not possible to get a worldwide patent.
As patents are territorial you need to lodge a patent application in each country in which you want patent protection. For example, in the US you would lodge your application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
An alternative to lodging a patent in each country’s or region’s patent office straight away is to file an international patent application with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), this will allow you to seek patent protection simultaneously in a very large number of countries including Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Germany, Denmark, United Kingdom, United States and many others (145 countries at the time of writing).
Anyone who resides in one of the countries covered by the PCT is eligible to file an international patent application.
The application can be filed with your national patent office or directly with the WIPO. In most cases, this can be filed electronically. WIPO have a web service (ePCT-filing) or special software (PCT-SAFE) which helps you to prepare your application. This automatically validates your data as you enter it and alerts you to anything which is incorrect.
Once you’ve filed your application, you have 30 months to then apply for a patent in each national office of the particular country that you want patent protection in. Your PCT international application cannot be rejected by any PCT country on formal grounds.
You’ll receive an international search report and written opinion from the International Search Authority (ISA) which will considerably cut down the time that each national patent office needs to spend doing searches on your patent application.
What Is a Provisional Patent Application?
The United States Patent and Trademark Office has offered inventors the option of lodging a provisional patent application since June 1995. This was designed for easier and lower cost patent filing for initial patent applications.
A provisional application eliminates the need for specification claims and an oath or declaration and allows inventors to use the term “Patent Pending” early on in the product development process. After filing a provisional patent application, the inventor then has a further 12 months to file a standard non-provisional application which will stay in effect for up to 20 years.
How Do You File a Patent Application?
A patent application is best filed by an attorney or patent agent. Patent documents can be quite complex and require a certain amount of legal skills so need careful handling by professionals. In saying that, it is certainly possible for an individual inventor to file his or her own application and this can be easily done online once all the necessary documents have been prepared.
One point to note though is that if you intend to file a patent application in a country other than the one you reside in, it is a requirement that you must use a local patent agent to file the application.
What Documents Do You Need to Prepare Before a Non-Provisional Application?
Most patent offices have a specific application form that you need to fill in. The information needed includes the name of the invention, it’s product category, some background information and a description of the invention. The description must have enough detail so that a person who has some experience and knowledge of the field in which the invention is to be used, could use or reproduce the product. This description would also then be accompanied by drawings, diagrams or plans to further illustrate the new invention.
An oath or declaration is also required from the inventor plus filing, search and examination fees. Some countries, such as the US, offer discounts on these fees for small, medium and micro-sized businesses.
What Happens Once the Patent Is Granted?
Once a patent has been granted by the relevant patent office, the details of the invention are published and made available to the general public. You now have all the rights granted under the patent in the particular countries you hold it in.
You do need to note that in general, it will be your job to keep an eye out for anyone that may have infringed your rights and to take them to court if necessary.
Also, even after a patent is granted it can still be challenged through the courts but that’s just the way it works!
Final Thoughts on Why to Patent an Invention
In concluding, obtaining a patent for your new invention is quite an involved procedure, however, it is a vitally important one to ensure that your rights as the inventor are protected.
This will allow you to manufacture and market your new product without fear of competition or being undercut by another company who has not invested the time and money into research and development.
It also gives you the ability to license your patented invention to another interested party who can then manufacture and market the product and you will receive royalties on the sale of every item.
It’s definitely worth looking into using the PCT system, especially if you want to apply for patent protection in other countries and not just the one you live in. This has several advantages over applying to each country straight away including a longer time to consider if it’s worth applying for patents internationally, savings in preparation time for documents and delaying the costs associated with international patents.
If you are about to embark on this journey, we wish you the best of luck in securing protection for your new invention.