SOME USEFUL INFORMATION ABOUT THE PATENT PROCESS FOR INDEPENDENT INVENTORS
How much does it cost? How long does it take? Phat protection does a patent proveide?
Q&AsTHE PATENT PROCESS FOR INDEPENDENT INVENTORS
How Much Does it Cost?
The first thing everyone wants to know about is cost. The entire process can cost less than $1000 from the putting you initial idea in writing to paying the issue fee to get your patent granted. After this, there are maintenance fees at the 3, 7 and 12-year mark. But by then you will know if your patent is worth maintaining. To spend less than $1000, you need to do the work yourself. The average person CAN do this themselves. It’s not magic! But it does require time and work and a lot of reading on your part. The US Patent Office (www.uspto.gov) is there to help. If you are going to draft the application yourself, you can always get help by paying a patent agent or attorney an hourly fee.
How long does it take?
There are excellent USPTO tools that you can use to guarantee that the whole process takes less than ONE YEAR. By paying for “Track-One” prioritized examination. If you are entitled to Micro Entity status (because you make less than about $162,000/yr) then the Track-One fee is only $1000. It is well worth the cost because without it the process is likely to last for 3-4 years. https://www.uspto.gov/patent/initiatives/usptos-prioritized-patent-examination-program.
What is a patent?
A US patent is an enforceable right, backed by the US government, that gives the patent owner the right to stop others from making, using, selling or importing the patented invention into the USA. So, if you have a US patent on a certain new baby car seat, then you can prevent anyone else from making, using, selling or importing the seat in the USA. If someone wants to do this, then need to pay you for a license. That’s right! Even if the car seat is made in Malaysia, and you have no patent in that country, a US patent still prevents anyone from importing or selling it in the USA!
Who can file for a US patent?
Anyone can. You do not have to be a US citizen or resident. A patent application can be fined in the name of a person or a company.
How long does patent protection last?
Utility patents are generally enforceable 20 years from the date you first applied for the patent. Design patents last 14 years from the date you are granted the patent.
Provisional vs. nonprovisional utility patent applications
A provisional patent application is a ‘place holder’ that lasts for a year and does not get examined. In order to get an issued patent, you MUST file a nonprovisional patent application. If you have filed a provisional, you MUST file a nonprovisional within 1 year. A nonprovisional patent application does get examined by the USPTO, and it can mature into an issued patent. A provisional patent application costs less to file initially. But if you intend to get a patent, then there is very little point in filing a provisional, because you just have to pay more fees in 12 months’ time to file your nonprovisional.
SOME USEFUL INFORMATION ABOUT THE PATENT PROCESS FOR INDEPENDENT INVENTORSDesign applications
A Design patent protects the “Ornamental Design” of an object. It does not protect any functional elements. A Design patent only protects the way something looks, for example the NBC design or the Chanel double C design on handbags and perfume etc.
What you cannot patent
You cannot patent abstract ideas, laws of nature (such as the law of gravity), or naturally occurring things in their natural state (such as minerals). Also, you cannot patent books, written, dramatic, musical, and artistic works; these can be Copyright protected - see the Copyright Office.
How an application becomes a patent: “Patent Prosecution”
The patent process is basically quite simple. (i) draft and file a patent application. At the end of the application there are ‘claims’ that define the invention; (ii) the patent is examined by the USPTO. They may allow the patent or they may find a reason to reject it and explain it to you; (iii) accept the allowed claims or correspond in writing with the USPTO arguing why their rejections are wrong and why your invention is patentable, this may involve editing (‘amending’) the claims - this process is called ‘patent prosecution’ and may go back and forth for several rounds; (iv) the patent application is finally either allowed or abandoned. The patent process may take months or years and can cost many thousands of dollars - mostly in attorney’s fees. But often, with enough time and dedication, you can do most of the work yourself and make the whole process reasonably efficient and inexpensive. There are certain way of speeding up the process, and these usually require payment of a fee to the USPTO, but they can be very effective.
The requirements needed to get a patent issued.
The USPTO patent examiner looks at the claimed invention to see if it meets three requirements. (1) It has to be useful. (2) It has to be novel. (3) It has to be non-obvious. To be useful the invention must simply have some sort of use - almost anything is enough and this is a very easy requirement to meet. To be novel, the invention must not have been previously described in a single publication. So, to be NOT novel, the invention must have been previously described in a single publication with each and every feature of the invention disclosed. This can be a big problem if it happens, but at least the standard is fairly clear and easy to understand. Non-obviousness is more complex. The examiner may combine two or more published references to argue that the invention is obvious. This means “a person of skill in the art would have found it obvious to combine elements described in the references to make the invention.” So, for instance, if you invented a baby car seat with an ejector seat and a parachute, the examiner could cite three separate published articles - one describing a baby car seat, one describing a car with an ejector seat, and one describing an airplane ejector seat with a parachute attached, and say that it would have been obvious for a car seat designer to look at these three articles and put them all together to come up with your claimed baby-ejector-car-seat-parachute invention.