Read an Excerpt
Excerpt from Chapter 1: Overview of the Patent Process
A patent gives you, the inventor, the exclusive right to make, use, or sell your invention. The entire rationale for granting patents to inventors is "to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries," as stated in Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution.
The Purpose of Patents
By giving inventors an exclusive right to their discoveries, inventors have a greater incentive to pursue their inventions, since there is a greater likelihood that they will see a return on their investment. Patents are, in effect, a valuable reward given to inventors for all of their hard work in creating something new. By giving inventors a type of monopoly on their inventions for a certain amount of time, it is believed that they are more likely to make sacrifices and investments to spend time inventing.
Patents also provide a greater incentive for inventors to make their inventions public through the patenting system. If you know that as soon as you disclose your invention someone could steal it and start using it as his or her own invention, you are probably going to be hesitant about disclosing your invention. In fact, you are probably going to want to keep your invention secret. By giving you protection against this kind of theft as soon as you file your patent application, it is believed that you will be more likely to tell the outside world about your invention. In the eyes of patent law, disclosing your invention to the world adds to the wealth of information in your field. In turn, this leads to future technological improvements and advancements in your field.
Factors to Consider
Deciding whether you should seek patent protection on your invention involves a variety of factors. No single factor is likely to answer this question for you, but there are several factors you should consider.
On the negative side, be aware that obtaining a patent is not an inexpensive process. Even if you go at it alone, there are some pretty hefty fees associated with the patent process itself. For example, there are fees to file your patent application ($155 for a small entity), as well as search fees ($255 for a small entity), and examination fees ($105) associated with such a filing. If you hire a patent attorney or agent to handle your application process, your fees will be considerably more expensive, ranging in the thousands of dollars just for his or her representation alone.
A patent owner must also pay about $6,000 in maintenance fees to keep a patent alive in the United States for its full term. If you want patent protection abroad, you will also have to pay maintenance fees for each country in which you seek to keep your patent in force. In total, it is not uncommon for a person to spend around $10,000$30,000 for obtaining and maintaining a patent in the United States, depending on the complexity of the invention. By doing things yourself, you will probably cut these expenses in half, but the fees can still be considerable for the individual inventor.
Another thing that you should keep in mind is that obtaining a patent is not an easy process. Your success in obtaining a patent will depend on a host of factors, such as your invention's novelty (a term that is defined for you in Chapter 3). Also, the chances of obtaining a patent have been decreasing. The reasons for this decline are believed to be due to an increasing belief by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) that many patents granted in the past should in fact not have been granted.
Another factor that you should consider is that having a patent on your invention does not necessarily mean that you have anything of value. What will be important instead is whether your invention has value to someone else. If your invention has no value to anyone, then your patent is basically going to be worthless. One thing that I find many inventors and patent attorneys alike do not appreciate is that people in this world do not buy technology; they buy products. For example, when people go to shop for a video game at the local software store, they are not looking to buy the software program behind the game. They want to buy the game itself regardless of the software. So, while a patent on video game software might be a nice thing to have, if there is no one interested in buying this particular video game, then the patented technology alone is not going to have significant value.
However, do not let uncertainty about this deter you. How do you know if your invention is valuable? If your invention already exists or there is already a better product out in the marketplace, then you are probably not going to make money off your invention by obtaining a patent. In Chapter 4, you learn how to uncover prior art to determine whether similar products exist in the marketplace. There are also experts who can assist you with valuing your invention. The United Inventors Association (UIA) is a nonprofit organization that will evaluate your invention for a cost of around $312. Their website is uiausa.com. Although $300 may seem like a lot of money to you, it is actually quite inexpensive compared to the costs of the patent process. Therefore, such evaluations can be very helpful before you engage in drafting a patent application for your invention.
In deciding whether or not your invention has possible value, one question that you can ask is whether or not innovative features of your invention could possibly give someone a competitive edge in the marketplace. If the answer to this question is yes, then a patent should be filed. What are innovative features? There are different key concepts and questions you should ask yourself about your invention to determine whether it has innovative features.