This is the first of 5 posts on taking your ideas to patent
Ideas are awesome. Of course, many people have said many things about ideas, like “Ideas are a dime a dozen” or “Execution matters more than the idea itself” but if you ask me, everything starts with an idea. The idea is not good or bad in and of itself, it simply has attributes which can determine where the idea goes in life. An idea can be born anywhere and at any time, and some ideas are great businesses. Other ideas are great enhancements to current existing products, some ideas enhance products so well that they completely transform products into something completely new, or refocus products to open completely new markets.
Once you have an idea, what do you do with it? That’s my main concern – some people simply enjoy generating ideas, they never expect to profit from them. Others grab onto an idea and think that it is so amazing that billion dollar businesses can be built on that idea. Others might think that the idea is so unique and new that even though that they cannot afford that time and/or money at the moment to develop the idea into that billion dollar business, they at least wish to register the fact that they were not only the first to come up with the idea, they want to be able to do something with the idea eventually, so their first thought is: let’s patent it.
As you know, patenting an idea basically allows you, and only you (or your company), to develop that exact idea into a product or service. It’s basically the same as copyright, however instead of being for some kind of content which can be copied (book, blog, audio, video) it applies to a process, or in some cases a visual design (in the case of a design patent).
Patenting allows you to protect your idea from others who might copy or steal it, if someone does, you have recourse through the legal system in order to stop them. Additionally, it allows you to license the idea to others for a fee, and you can get a royalty paid to you each time a product is developed. For example, let’s say that you came up with a new design for a Bluetooth-based speaker system which attached to your shower stall so you could listen to music in the shower, and it was connected to your smartphone which is within range. You could give the smartphone rudimentary audio commands from the shower in order to skip to the next song, play again, or play another playlist. Great idea, but you have no idea how to start a company and build these. So you patent the idea, then once the patent has been granted, you can try to license the idea to a company to develop it for you, and then every time a unit is sold, you get a small percentage in royalty off that unit.
Great idea, eh? Only a few small issues: it takes a relatively long time to have a patent issued (up to 4-5 years from filing – there is another option which is faster and cheaper, called a provisional patent, which lets you protect the idea for a year – just enough time to gather the funds to do a utility patent), there is a cost involved (between $12-15k per filing) and the idea itself needs to be reviewed by examiners at the US Patent Office. They are the ones who can determine if the idea is worthy enough to be granted a patent, and there are typically 3 specific criteria which they look for in order to determine patentability.
These criteria are novelty, usefulness, and non-obviousness. In our work, we also add a fourth criteria, visibility, which ensures that if someone is attempting to steal your patent, we can tell.
Over the next few posts, I’ll be going into detail on each of these criteria in order to help you to determine the patentability of your idea.