I think I invented something. Now what?

First step is to find out if you really have an invention. For your innovation to be an invention, you should be the first person on earth to come up with such an idea. In order to find out if such a technology exists already, you have two options: 1) You may find a patent attorney or agent, he/she would ask a patent investigator for a patent/technology search about your innovation. This would cost some money. 2) You may do the patent/technology search yourself using for example the following sites:
- Google patents.
- United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO): boolean search, search with patent number.
- European Patent Office.

If you can not find any technology similar to your innovation, you may proceed for a patent application. However, you should bear in mind that, during the progress of your patent application the patent examiner, or even after the patent is issued, another party may come across of an older technology similar to yours. Such a technology would prevent you from getting a patent, or challenge your patent if it were already issued.

I performed the patent search, I could not find any technology similar to mine. What next?

You may now proceed with the filing of your patent application. You may do it yourself, or you may hire a patent lawyer to do it for you.

If you are very worried that your idea may be stolen, you may choose to file the application directly yourself on the website of the USPTO. However, if you file the application yourself and if you make the scope of your claim narrow, you can not expand it later. (see below the question about ‘paper patent’)

It is very risky for a patent lawyer to steal the idea of his/her client. Hence, you may want to hire an attorney or agent forehand, and let him/her prepare and make the application for you.

How should I select a patent attorney or agent?

He/she should be honest and familiar to the field of your technology.

Patent attorneys and agents usually charge per hour. However, some of them are so generous toward themselves that they do not stop the timer even when they go to lunch or restroom; they do not mind giving their clients unfairly inflated bills.

If your innovation is, for example, about a paint or a soap, a person with chemistry background may be more competent in the execution of the application.

Most of the time initial consultation is free of charge. You should meet as many attorneys and agents as possible until you feel comfortable that you found the right person for the job. If one tries to charge for initial consultation, it may be sign of greed…

How good will my patent be in other states and countries?

Your patent will give you the right to exclude others from making, selling, using your invention in all states of the U.S. However, if you do not apply for patent in other countries according to the local laws of those countries, you can not have any patent protection there. In other words, if you do not apply for patent in an other country within 30 months after your first filing date in the U.S., you practically donate your invention/technology to that country.

Let us explain this with an example:

Let John invent a very thin fabric that insulates heat very well. He can make thin outfits that can be worn in very cold weather. John makes his patent application according to the U.S. patent law. He thinks that his fabric would sell well in cold countries; he decides to apply for patent also in Canada, Finland, and Norway. Within twelve months he makes an application to Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), to show his intention that he is going to apply for patent in other countries. Within eighteen months following the PCT application, he applies for patent at the patent offices of Canada, Finland, and Norway, according to the local laws there. Following this thirty months from the date of the first application in the U.S. he has no more right to make any patent application in any other country.

Let us say that some manufacturers in Switzerland notice John’s patent, and think that coats, jackets made with such a thin fabric would have a good market at resorts on Alp mountains. They start to manufacture and sell such fabric and outfits without any permission from John. They can also export them to all countries in the world except U.S., Canada, Finland, and Norway.

Manufacturers in Canada, Finland, and Norway know about John’s patent, however, they can not make, sell, or use it before taking a licence from John. During the life of the patent protection, which is about 20 years from the initial filing date in the U.S., John and his licensees in the U.S., Canada, Finland, and Norway, enjoy monopoly and high selling prices. When patent protection ends, nobody needs any licence from John, and competetion to manufacture the fabric starts, prices drop to regular market levels...

I don’t want a “paper patent,” what should I do?

“Paper patent” means practically an invention that was/is not commercially produced.

For a patent not to be produced commercially, there are basically two reasons:

1) During the development process, it may be found that it is either not possible to make it commercially, e.g. a medication that fails during clinical trials, or a better technology by a competitor makes the patented invention obsolete to produce.

2) Patent’s claim is so narrow that it does not provide a sound protection, and nobody wants to invest for its production.

As is known, in the claims section of the patent the invention is described by words in such way that the boundary of the patent is drawn. This boundary is alike the borders between countries. Similar to how a country’s border can not infringe the territory of its neighbor, a patent’s boundary should not infringe any other patent.

Usually the first claim of each patent is the broadest one that provides the maximun protection. When an application is filed, patent examiner first checks that the first claim does not infringe any other patent, then tries to make your first claim as small as possible to give room to future research and development.

If the first claim is too narrow, patent office does not want to waste much time and money about the expensive examination process, and issues the patent that stays as “paper patent,” relatively easily.

When selecting a legal representative, if he/she says that your invention may be easily patented, you should pay attention to the first claim that he/she would prepare. If the patent is issued easily, it may be the case of a paper patent.

How can I find capital to manufacture my invention?

If you have a patent with a good protection (i.e. broad first claim) you may contact venture capital firms. There are many venture capital companies each specilizing in different fields; they screen newly registered patents regularly. If your patent and its protection are sound, they may find you even before you go to them...