The 5 Things You Must Do To Protect Your Idea
This really isn’t a secret ... you, the inventor, can literally own your creative thoughts. It’s the spark behind the Patent and Copyright system -- it’s even enshrined in the Constitution. But… You can only protect your idea if you actively champion it by filing a patent application quickly.
You must quickly file a Provisional Patent Application to Obtain "first to file" status.Why is this so important?
Because, the invention and patent landscape has changed dramatically in the last 5 years.
Where it was once sufficient to maintain an inventor's notebook (which still should be kept faithfully), it's now a supplement to a necessarily more aggressive effort to memorialize and capture your idea. Since 2013, the "first to file" for an idea gets the patent.
This means that almost as soon as your idea pops out of your head and onto a sheet of paper, you need to file for a provisional patent application.
Today, "fast-to-file" companies are filing patent applications on 'their embellishment' of ideas that they see at tradeshows, literally during the tradeshow.
Can you afford to bet that your competition is not doing this?
Filing the provisional patent application, as well as following up with related blog publications, achieves two huge benefits:
1. You gain your earliest possible position in line to receive exclusive rights to your idea; and
2. You prevent others from one day suing you for their later-invented, but similar, patented ideas.
In other words, you can stop your competition, and they can't stop you.
But, not all provisional patent applications are equal. Provisionals have a job to do and to receive the benefit of an early filing, however, it has to pass certain tests.
"Enabling" Disclosure: Avoiding the Curse of Knowledge
At Thrasher Associates, we quickly prepare provisionals while at the same time working with our clients to craft provisionals that are fully compliant with the law. For example, a provisional must be "enabling." That means that a qualified provisional must sufficiently disclose the idea for others to use it.
One way provisionals are frequently disqualified is because they fail to fully disclose the idea, and this almost always happens because of "the curse of knowledge" -- when the inventor knows so much about his product or process that they project that knowledge on the general public.
Patent examiners, however, will only give your application a few minutes (at most) to make your pitch, and this means that the essence of the invention must be easy to understand.
The best way to make it easy to understand is to say it in clear language, and patent applications are, quite frankly, notoriously bad at this.
Patent writers often use vague words when they really don't understand the invention -- for example, I read word and phrases like "an apparatus," "a novel methodology and algorithm therefor" or "first means" in so many applications.
What do these phrases mean anyway?! Who knows! And, that's the point.
Don't be like those people. Keep it simple, specific, and clear.
Here's one quick trick to dramatically improve your provisional: use drawings, and describe them. Drawings are broadly interpreted by the Patent Office and courts to imply, well, a lot. By including drawings and descriptive references to these drawings in your provisional, you are creating the foundations for broadening your inventive rights at several critical dates your invention will soon have with destiny.
Quick Take Action Tip:
Write your provisional as a letter to a friend.
Not All Patent Searches are Created EqualLearn What Kind of Patent Search* You Really Need, and Understand the Results
*Also referred to as a Prior Art Search, a Patentablity Search, or a Novelty Search (although they are different).
First, **A WARNING**
"Patent Search" is a confusing term. At the same time it can refer to: (1) ANY type of patent search, or (2) to a much more narrow, specific type of patent search!
Patent searches (along with their related cousin the "prior art search") protect Game Changers in so many ways.
Here are the Big Two questions:
'The Big Two' questions in intellectual property law are: (1) can I protect it? and (2) can someone else stop me from doing it?
However, very few people think through these questions, and their differences.
All too often, I will receive a call from a business that's been sued, but who has a patent! They, of course, want to know just how on Earth can they be sued for making something they have a patent on?
So, if I have a patent, I can make my invention, right?
This is actually a common misconception. A patent is not a grant of permission to make the thing that is described in the patent application.
Rather, a patent gives its owner the ability to stop someone else from doing the (sometimes small) piece of the patent application that is sufficiently unique.
This is a huge reason why patent searches are so important.
Now you know that patent searches can protect your business by:
(1) showing you what may be inventive about your idea;
(2) identifying patents owned by others that could be used to attack your product.
By either designing around or otherwise managing these patents 'today' you'll save yourself tremendous amounts of money and heartache in the future trying to make up for a preventable mistake.
Besides protection, patent searches provide great market 'intel' (secrets).
Patent searches provide a wealth of information that can also benefit your business. For example, patent applications identify competitors you may not know about -- particularly innovative and startup competitors. Additionally, patent search results often identify new market opportunities that lie just beyond where you're currently thinking.
So, Patent Searches protect you from infringing someone else's patent, they guide you to your idea's patentable aspects, and in doing so they protect you from putting at risk thousands of dollars and months or years of time.
So, how do you know which type of search you need? That depends on your invention and who does the search for you -- unfortunately, there are not universal standards in the industry about what exactly each search type is called.
For beginners, I suggest hiring a professional and asking them up-front for a "patentability search" -- they'll know what you mean. Be sure to review its findings with a professional who can understand and explain what they mean to your invention, and its market (it just so happens that nearly 1000 inventors and entrepreneurs have trusted me to assist them with the review of their invention).
Quick Take Action Tip: View a patent search as more than research into your narrow improvement, it's a view into your market, use it accordingly.