This is the 4th of 5 posts on patenting your ideas. This episode: Usefulness.
This one is an easy one. Take one look at the invention and ask yourself. “Is this useful?”. There are many cool ideas, but if they are not useful, they probably don’t qualify as a patentable invention.
For example, an artist creates a hammer made of glass. The glass shatters when you use the hammer to attempt to hit a nail. Interesting idea, not useful. Now take that same idea but use a new glass formula stronger than cast aluminum or steel and just as tensile. The resulting hammer is super light and surprisingly can hammer nails even more effectively than a normal hammer due to the new properties of this glass. Is this patentable on the grounds of usefulness? Heck, yes, IMHO.
Now remember that “usefulness” is not a good or bad thing, and it has nothing to do with if something is legal or illegal, or culturally frowned upon, or maybe embarrassing or weird, or is something you figure could never possibly come to pass, since there are probably laws or regulations against it. When we patent, we forget about all of that stuff – we don’t care if it should be done, we only care if it can be done. That being said, some companies will decline to patent ideas unless they are useful to themselves or their customers, either today or in the future. For example, if you work for a bank and come up with an awesome new food source, they may not patent the idea as they think that they will never get into that business, no matter what happens in the future, so that idea won’t get patented through their program. If you still want to go ahead with the idea, consult your employment agreement and your company’s legal counsel before you disclose it to anyone. Typically, once you join a company, any ideas you come up with may become theirs automatically, so check your agreements.
So when you think about “usefulness,” it’s entirely possible that you may come up with an idea that has a negative impact on some people but is really useful to others. Say, for example, you come up with a tool to manage renters by watching their every move via some internet of things device you install in their apartments. While the renter might hate the idea, the building owner might find it useful. By that criteria, it could be a patentable idea.
Please note: I’m not a patent attorney, although I do hang around many of them, and they are all very nice people – so if you have more detailed questions regarding an actual patent or patentable idea, please consult an attorney. I just like inventing stuff.