Intellectual property protection is critical to fostering innovation. Without protection of ideas, businesses and individuals may be unable to reap the full rewards of their inventions. Patents can help to drive business growth and secure future investment – but many businesses still do not know how to protect the ideas that matter.
From idea to patent
A patent gives an inventor the legal right to stop others from copying, manufacturing, selling or importing their invention without permission for up to 20 years. Holding exclusive rights to an invention also helps reward innovation, because a patent can also be licensed to others – generating additional revenues.
The idea is the first critical step towards obtaining a patent, but it is important to understand the strategy behind turning an idea into a profitable product.
Patent vs profit
Applying for a patent is often a savvy business decision – but there can be significant costs associated with a filing. Even without a patent attorney – or the use of professionally prepared patent drawings – it can cost approximately $1,500 in fees to file and obtain a patent from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Before investing money in intellectual property rights, inventors need to research their market and decide whether it is worth the outlay of funds. With perseverance an inventor can almost always get a patent but they should be sure they are getting the right protection.
See also: The importance of having cash in your IP protection strategy – Determining your IP protection strategy is complex and will cost more than you think
Looking for answers
Before accumulating filing costs, inventors can seek a patent search for an invention they think is worth protecting. A detailed patent search can give inventors an idea about their patent landscape and identify whether an idea is truly unique.
By conducting a patent search and obtaining professional guidance from a patent attorney, inventors will be able to determine whether it makes sense to move forward and what rights, if any, could be granted.
Prepare to patent
Before obtaining a patent, an inventor needs to consider whether their invention qualifies for protection and – to complete the filing process – should be able to describe all aspects of their idea. A patent needs to fully describe the invention to the level that the invention could be repeated by someone with the appropriate skills. Depending on the invention type, it may also be worthwhile building and testing a prototype before filing.
Inventors can benefit from recording every step of the invention process, describing and drawing diagrams of every aspect and modification of the invention, and recording how the idea first materialised. By documenting these efforts, inventors are armed with the most accurate information for a patent application.
Putting pen to paper
With the appropriate documents and plans to hand, inventors can apply for a patent with their local patent office – for example, the USPTO in the United States and the IPO in the UK. Patents are territorial rights, meaning they are only applicable in the countries where patents have been granted. Entrepreneurs should consider which countries are important to them and where they will be trading before choosing a patent office.
At the point of filing for a patent, the idea is often described as “patent pending”. For the next 2-3 years – while the process is being completed – inventors can still inform others that they have sought patent protection.
The power of patents
It is crucial not to ignore IP protection – chances are intangible assets and IP rights will generate the largest percentage of your company’s future value. CEOs need to focus on establishing idea protection as quickly and early as possible, generating the right partnerships to ensure protection is real.
Haydn Evans is global director planning and insights for CPA Global.