Nolo's Inventors' Bundle
Nolo's Inventors' Bundle
If I show my invention to a company that might license or buy it, how can I keep them from stealing my idea?
This is a common worry among inventors—after all, if you disclose too much about your invention, you risk giving losing legal protections.
There are a couple of ways you can protect yourself. One is to file a provisional patent application, if your invention is patentable. It’s easy and quick—much less complicated than a regular patent application. Another option is to ask companies and individuals with whom you speak to sign a nondisclosure agreement, promising not to use or share confidential information they acquire during your discussions.
How do I know whether or not someone has already patented my idea?
This is a key question—if someone has beaten you to the patent office and already gotten a patent, you’ll be out of luck. To find out, you must search the records of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). You can do your own patent search online, for free, by using the USPTO’s website or Google’s patent site. Other companies offer searches if you’re willing to pay a fee.
How do I know whether or not my invention can be patented?
There are three kinds of U.S. patents: utility patents, design patents, and plant patents.
Utility patents – are the most common type. To qualify, your invention must fall into one of these categories:
- a process or method for producing a useful, concrete, and tangible result
- a machine
- an article of manufacture
- a composition of matter (for example, a soap, or a genetically altered life form), or
- an improvement of an invention in one of the first four categories.
For a utility patent, the invention must also:
- have some usefulness (utility), no matter how trivial
- be novel (different from all previous inventions in some important way)
- be nonobvious (a surprising and significant development) to somebody who understands the technical field of the invention.
For patent a design, it must be novel, nonobvious, and nonfunctional. For example, a new shape for a car fender, a bottle, or a pen that doesn't improve functionality would qualify.
Finally, plants may be patented if they are novel and nonobvious. Plant patents are the least common kind of patent.
How do I decide whether applying for a patent is worth the expense and effort?
Even if you don’t hire a patent attorney, you’ll spend more than $1,500 in fees to file and get a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)—and many inventions never earn any money for their inventors. So deciding whether or not to file for a patent should be a business decision. Before you spend time and money filing for a patent, research the market you want to enter. Make sure that something sets your invention apart from the other products already in the field and that there is a real demand for it.
Can I get “patent pending” status for my invention?
To get “patent pending: status, you can file a provisional patent application (PPA) for your invention. Filing a PPA with the USPTO is much simpler, easier, and less expensive than filing a regular patent application. And once you’ve filed a PPA, you can claim “patent pending” status for the invention for 12 months from the date of filing.
A provisional patent application consists of text and drawings that describe how to make and use your invention. It's a short document, often just five to ten pages. It’s written in plain English, with none of the arcane language used in regular patent applications.
Do I need to hire a professional to do my patent drawings?
Drawings of your invention are part of the patent application. And although many people hire professionals to draft the drawings—at $75 to $150 per sheet—many others do it themselves. Some start by tracing photographs onto paper. You can also import scanned photographs into a drawing program on your computer.