This inventor's guide to registering a patent in the United States reveals the basic details every inventor needs to know to protect her intellectual property.
A patent is an agreement between an inventor and the government that encourages innovation and transparency.
The inventor agrees to disclose her invention to the public so everyone can understand it. The disclosure is made in the form of a written patent application. In return, the government rewards the inventor for her disclosure by issuing a patent.
The inventor can use the patent to prevent anyone else from making, using, selling, or offering to sell the patented invention for a limited period of time, usually twenty years after the inventor applies for the patent.
Not Everything Can Be Patented.
Inventions that can be registered as patents must be new and cannot be obvious. An invention will not be considered new if someone has already described it in any publication.
In addition, an invention that has already been used or displayed in public will not be considered new. Therefore, it is vital that inventors keep detailed records about when they disclose their invention to the public or show it in public. Once the invention has been publicly displayed, the inventor must apply for a patent within a year.
Provisional Patent Applications Save Money.
Many inventors want to protect their ideas early on, so no one can steal them while they refine the invention or look for investors. A provisional patent application is perfect for this situation.
A provisional patent application costs less and is easier to file than a non-provisional application. The inventor writes a description of the invention, includes drawings that explain details of the invention, and files these written documents with the patent office along with a minimal filing fee.
The inventor then has twelve months to file a non-provisional application, which is more costly and complex. In the meantime, if someone else tries to patent the same idea, the inventor has priority over the newcomer by virtue of the provisional patent application. The provisional application holds the inventor's place in time.
When To Register a Utility Patent
Within one year of filing a provisional application or one year after disclosing the invention to the public, the inventor must file a non-provisional patent application fully describing and illustrating the invention. Consulting with a patent agent or patent attorney will help the inventor complete this critical phase.
Inventors who decide to handle the filing and registration on their own should allow plenty of time to become familiar with the deadlines and fees required. Preparing the application and communicating with the Patent Examiner, who will review the application and decide whether or not the patent should be granted, is a time consuming process that requires patience and diplomacy.
After Registration: Licensing
Most inventors want to make money from their inventions, either by making products themselves or, more often, by licensing their invention to be used by a company that sells similar products.
Inventors should avoid agencies that charge a fee to market the patented invention. Virtually all of the established companies that are willing to review outside patents will review them whether the invention comes from an agency or from the inventor herself. The inventor might as well eliminate the "middle man" and market his own invention.
Registering a patent is a complicated process for any inventor. This guide to the basics takes the mystery out of the procedure.