“That’s a great idea!” Many entrepreneurs have heard this phrase uttered to them at some point after creating an invention that seems like an awakening. Whether or not that idea is unique or completely new is determined by existing patents. According to Google, a patent is defined as “a government authority or license conferring a right or title for a set period, especially the sole right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention.”
Business owners possess many assets in their business, such as capital, equipment, real estate, inventory and intellectual property, which includes copyrights, trademarks and patents. Patents provide their proprietors with both offensive and defensive security for their inventions. They enjoy the exclusive rights to use, manufacture and sell their creation while also safeguarding against competitors doing the same.
In spite of its advantages, the process of obtaining a patent can be a difficult road to navigate. Patents used to be granted in the United States by the “first to invent,” but recently, the burden of proof lay in the “first to file.” Meaning, someone else could file and obtain a patent before another if they filed first, no matter if they were first to create or use an invention. The process changed to lessen wait times and decrease filing costs.
Much time, research and money will be spent from the moment an idea is hatched, to its first design sketch, to its filed patent application. Check out all the next steps of the patent process at the official United States Patent & Trademark Office here. Before setting off on this path, you might want to check if all the trouble is worth the effort.
Worth the Cost
The two most valuable assets of any small business owner are their limited time and capital. Trying to obtain a patent can drain both of these resources very quickly. The filing process alone usually requires a specialized patent lawyer to help navigate the complicated procedures. Simple inventions may cost a few thousand dollars while more complex inventions cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Entrepreneurs must realize the risks involved to measure it against the value of receiving the patent and the invention’s future marketability.
The most common business patent is the utility patent, which can cover inventions that are somewhat abstract. A utility patent might be awarded to someone who invents a brand new process or device, or creates an improvement to an existing technology.
For a new idea or invention to be patented, it must meet several initial criteria to even be considered. The creation has to be considered useful, fit within an established patent category, a new idea, and non-obvious to receive a patent.
- Useful: Unlike other forms of intellectual property, an invention must be “useful” to qualify for patent protection. The precondition is met if the product contributes some benefit and is capable of use.
- Category: A new idea will be considered for a patent if it fits into an established category. Some inventions are specifically excluded, such as laws of nature, physical phenomena, abstract ideas and non-useful gadgets. Those that are included for patent availability would be processes and machines.
- New Idea: One of the strictest requirements in trying to secure a patent is the concept of the idea being new. Was the invention previously made available to the public or revealed prior to the patent application? It must be new or “novel” to qualify for protection.
- Non-obvious Idea: Is the invention easily recognizable to an average person within the industry of use? It can’t be known by anyone else in the same field as easily discernible. If it is, it’s termed to be “obvious” and therefore not qualified to be protected under a patent.
If your new invention meets each of these requirements, then you might want to consult a patent attorney and weigh your options about protecting your idea.
There are other ways of protecting your business assets if they do not qualify for a patent. One of them is obtaining a copyright. Written works like books, articles, music or videos can all be covered by copyright laws. If you have created any of these types of original work, all information including fees and obtaining the copyright can be claimed through the U.S. Copyright Office.
Another way to defend your organization’s intellectual property is to use a trademark. It differs from a patent because it can last forever, as long as it’s renewed in accordance with the federal law. A trademark is “a symbol, word or words legally registered or established by use as a representation of a company or product.”
With all this information, your great ideas will be protected, giving no reason to fear competitors stealing them without compensation or consequence.