Patents, copyrights, and trademarks are ways to protect your intellectual property – or to put it another way, they are protections to keep people from stealing your ideas. While each is different in what it does and what it protects, patents are by far the one I run into the most. I am constantly approached by people who have either filed a patent or they are wanting to file one to protect their idea. But, before you leap and spend money, let be very clear about what a patent can and cannot do.
What Does a Patent Do?
To use the words right off the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s website.
“A patent is a property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor ‘to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States’ for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.”
In short, protection from others using my idea once I have made it public.
What Does a Patent NOT Do?
Perhaps more important than what is does do is what is does not do. It does not
- protect your idea forever,
- make you any money,
- help you market your idea,
- protect every aspect of your idea, or
- keep others from tweaking your idea or improving on it.
How much does a patent cost?
Common Sense Information about Patent Strategy
With all this said, what should the everyday inventor do with this information. Let’s examine some of the truths of patents.
1. Remember that patents do not make you money, they make money for attorneys. So be clear about that up front.
2. Most patented ideas have never made a dime. Most are filed by people who cannot execute and make it happen or bring the idea to market. Some patents are not really even of interest to the market. Are you in this category?
3. Most large companies and universities do not do patents without seeing a potential market value. They consider a patent an investment to protect an idea and only those ideas that they feel have market potential.
4. Patents offer a limited amount of protection. A patent should be matched with aggressive attack to win market share.
5. Most people looking to file a patent are wasting their time and their money. (OK – this is my opinion.) Do not be this person.
6. Focus on the market demand. What will you do with your idea? Again, patents do not make money, they cost money. So your marketing and implementation need to make the money to cover the cost of the patent.
What if I Think I Have an Idea that I Need to Patent?
First, review the above list. Then, before you go out and hire an attorney, take these steps.
- Do your own quick patent search. Mostly make sure if you have a unique idea and that you are not violating another patent. Your search may not be complete, but so often ideas people think are unique have already been patented in seven different ways. You can do a search at USPTO or on Google’s Patent search tool.
- Talk to more than one intellectual property attorney. Get a feel for who is easier to work with and their fees. Avoid attorneys who do it all. If you have a good idea, go to someone who specializes in intellectual property.
- Do not give into attorney scare tactics to get you paying money now.
Remember that the goal of a patent is to protect your idea so that you can make the money from your work. Do not let a patent instead drain you of money. And do not get caught up in the hype. I constantly hear people say “I had that idea and now someone else is making millions from it.” Get over it. You had the idea, so did 1000 other people. Execution is key – not the idea.
Can I File My Own Patent?
Yes, you can do the work yourself and it can be real. Sarah Blakely of Spanx did. Read her story.
Question: What experiences have you had with patents or patent research? You can leave a comment by clicking here.