So, you think you're ready to patent your invention, kick back and watch your millions roll in, right? Who knows, you could have a success, but I've seen a lot of mistakes clog up the process costing inventors valuable time and valuable dollars. At my company we strive to ensure our ideas go as far as we can take them and over the years we've seen several mistakes appear over and over.
Here are ten mistakes to avoid that could prove fatal for new inventors.
1. Patenting too early
If all you have is a loose idea of what you want, then it's probably too early to dish out up to $ 12,000 in attorney and patent filing fees, not to mention the long term patent upkeep costs that'll weigh you down. So, when is the right time to patent? Well, when you're prepared. I'll tackle that in a minute.
2. Taking your invention to a patent attorney when you're unprepared
This is the largest one. The key to saving money is preparation. The fewer questions a patent attorney has to ask, the less time you'll be on his clock, shoveling away money you do not have. Always answer their questions before they even ask them. Prevent this up front with detailed engineering drawings, a product sample and an executive summary.
This saves valuable time. A patent draftsman will quickly be able to do his work; as well, the attorney will know what your idea is and how it works. With detailed engineering drawings, showing your work in an exploded view, you'll also be able to show the inner workings of your invention to the patent attorney. Sometimes there is a certain element involved that makes your patent even more specific. This could force competitors wishing to knock off your product to make an inferior product, because they can not get those details (that may have otherwise never been seen if it was not for real engineering).
3. Patenting something that can not be made
I know, this one should be obvious, but is it? You may have the best invention in the world, but what the point if it can not be made. A manufacturer might end up re-engineering the whole project just to put it all together right. Then you'll be left with refiling a new patent to reflect the new product, which brings more money and pain you could have avoided.
4. Patenting something that's not marketable at a price point anyone would pay
Again, knowing how your invention will be manufactured will determine its patentability and its cost for the consumer. If it costs too much to make, then you'll have a tough time finding someone to license and sell it at a profit. This all comes back to real detailed drawings for real manufacturing.
5. Patenting too late
"First you say, 'Do not patent too early,' now you're telling me not to patent too late.
Patenting too late leaves your invention open to becoming public domain. This can happen one year after making a public disclosure. Now, no one wants this. When you invent something, it's your baby. You do not want it ripped off or stolen and you would not mind getting credit and maybe even making a few dollars. Once it's in the public domain, anyone can use it without your permission.
So, get your ducks in a row. Know what the product is, how it will be made, etc. Once all of that is in line, it'll be much easier to commit to patenting.
6. Patenting without a working prototype
Did you know there was a time in our great country's history when inventors had to take a working prototype to the patent office before they could even consider filing for a patent? Well, today you do not need one, but it'll make your life easier and the process go quicker.
If the patent attorney has any questions left over from the executive summary and the engineering drawings, using the product sample should shut him up and get him to work for you (if the product's design communicates well). Remember, you're on the clock with an attorney and time and money is precious. Get past the early mistakes and get down to the business, so your attorney can help you protect your invention.
7. I have to have a patent
"Wait, so I've read this far and suddenly you're going to tell me I do not need a patent?"
Not exactly. I think it's a good time to remind you that you do not have to have a patent. Well, maybe not right now. Big corporations like Westinghouse and Sony patent just about everything they come up with, because they can. But that does not mean you have to. I wonder if there is another device you could use to get some protection at an affordable price … well, what's this at number eight?
8. Ignoring the power of the provisional patent
Filing the provisional patent application may be all you need while you try to license your invention, or attempt to take it to market independently. A common misconception inventors continue to kick around is that corporations looking to license will not license without a patent already in place. Welcome to the era of open innovation.
In the past, many companies wanted to ensure an inventor had a patent for several reasons. First, they want to protect themselves. What if you bring in an idea their R & D division is already working on in secret. Then they turn you down and release their own product on the market. A legal battle may ensue. Second, the corporation just wants to place another barrier between an inventor and their doors.
However, today, more and more companies want innovative products to secure markets and ring in additional profits. They're more likely to look at a creation with a provisional patent.
There are some caveats you should heed with provisional patents. They last only one year unless you file a non-provisional patent within that year. Secondly, your non-provisional patent will only rebate back to the same properties disclosed in the provisional patent. So, if you change the invention too much, the protection will not need to rebate back for the year.
9. Filing countless addendums, when you could have had it right the first time
You patented your product. You present it to a corporation. They're interested, but they will not look any further without you (insert dramatic pause) change your design. Hey, it happens once, twice, or until it's right for them to commit. So, what do you need to do, you need to file addendums or even new patents as you move along. Nip it in the bud before it starts.
Target your market and work hard through the development and building phase to perceive any design or marketability problems. Try as hard as you can to get it right before you patent.
10. "I got a patent, now I'll just wait for my millions"
A patent does not guarantee you anything. Someone can protest your patent. Someone can wait until your product sells on shelves and take you to court for a patent conflict. Inventing is a tough world and it takes more than just a patent. It takes a great invention, design and the work to get it licensed and put it on shelves. It takes spirit, heart and confidence.
I hope this list helps you out. At my organization, we believe strongly in a process armed with the value of good design, engineering drawings, clear executive summaries, packaging and, most important, working product samples. These elements speak volumes and make patenting simpler.