How to Get a Patent
Disclaimer: The following is in no way legal advice, Chic CEO recommends you consult your attorney or visit a patent attorney to discuss your options.
Patents are a part of something called Intellectual Property. Intellectual Property (IP) is anything made by the creative mind, and just like any other property, can be stolen or misused. When you come up with an original idea that you think you can market and create a profit with, it’s smart to do your research and decide if it’s worth protecting.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office says, “A patent gives an inventor the right to exclude all others from making, using, importing, selling or offering to sell the invention for up to 20 years without the inventor's permission. This gives the inventor the opportunity to produce and market the invention himself, or license others to do so, and to make a profit.”
There are four ways to protect your IP and they include trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and patents.
1. Trademarks. Trademarks are words, names, symbols, sounds or colors that distinguish goods and services. For example: Tiffany & Co has a signature blue color they use for their boxes and collateral, Starbucks uses a certain color of green. The sound of the NBC three tone chime or Intel’s chord sequence. All of these must show that they have a significant impact on the perception of the brand to consumers in order to be trademarked.
2. Copyrights. Copyrights apply to works of authorship. They are things like writings, music, works of art or anything that you author. Books, symphonies, video games, movies, etc. Copyrights last the life of the author plus 70 years.
3. Trade Secrets. A trade secret is information that is kept secret to give the company an advantage over its competitors. Things like recipes, formulas, processes, systems, etc.
4. Patents. There are three types of patents: utility patents, design patents and plant patents. A utility patent is for useful processes, machines, articles of manufacture, and compositions of matter. Things like medications and microchips. A design patent is for new, original and ornamental designs for articles of manufacture. Things like the design look of a car, an athletic shoe, etc. Plant patents are used for invented or discovered, asexually reproduced plant varieties. Things like hybrid corn and soybeans.
If you do decide that you want to patent your idea, you are able to file a provisional patent as a first step and a low cost option to get started on your patent. However, you must then file the patent application (non-provisional application) within 12 months. The reason you would file a provisional patent is if you want a low cost option of protecting your initial idea while you are working out all of the details. Note that just because you filed a provisional patent doesn’t mean you will be granted a patent. A provisional patent application will allow you to be first to patent something in the event others are also trying to patent it, but will also be public knowledge before the actual patent is granted (or not granted). You can find the provisional patent application at www.uspto.gov.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office will not conduct a patent search for you for free. The cost ranges from $100 to $540. They will tell you if someone else has patented your idea if you file a patent application, but you will forfeit your application fee. That’s why it’s important to do your research before you run out and file. You can do your own search at http://patft.uspto.gov or hire an expert to do it for you. Doing a patent search will save you time and money in the long run.
The average time it takes to be granted a patent is around 22 months. It’s important for your product and product packaging to clearly state that you’ve applied for a patent and it is indeed pending. This serves as a warning to others that you have all rights to the design, manufacturing and reproduction of your invention.
Do I Need A Patent?
UC Berkley School of Law recently did a survey on high-tech companies and their patents. What they found was quite interesting. While the biggest reason among all firms to get a patent was so their ideas weren't copied, the second biggest reason was to secure funding. VC firms are more likely to invest if they know the product idea is patented or patent-pending. It creates a competitve edge among potential rivals and makes the investment more attractive. If this is a situation you think you might be in - a potential investor might be more seduced by your product if it were patent pending - it might be worth getting a patent or at the least a provisional patent.
Some companies will file a provisional patent, mark their product as "patent pending" for the next 12 months and use this time to gain as much market share as possible before copy cats and other competitors join in. It's all up to you how you want to approach your go to market strategy, but just know that getting a patent is very costly and doesn't mean someone won't copy or improve upon your existing idea. Sometimes it's just better to get to market first and win through marketing and customer service.