Patents and Provisional Patents
How to get a patent
When inventors come to us with their idea, we generally ask one questions before even getting started: "Is your idea patentable?" A lot of times, excited inventors want to jump into the product development process before getting all their ducks in a row, which can lead to issues down the line.
The first thing you need to do, before jumping into the design process, is find out if your invention hasn't already been patented at some point. Even if you do not see a similar product on the market, it does not mean that someone hasn't already thought of that idea and put a patent in place. If you were to start the product development process without fully researching current patents, you may find yourself out of a lot of time and money, because another person has patented part or all of your idea.
To help you get started with the patent process and navigating the confusing world of patents, we have put together a list of the most common questions we get asked about patents. At Synectic, we do not assume to take the place of sound legal counsel and, before pursuing any patent application, we strongly recommend consulting a patent attorney. This guide is merely meant to answer common questions we receive regarding the patent process.
The Patent Process
A patent is the grant of property rights to someone for a specific period of time. In the United States patents are issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the term for those patents is generally between 14 and 20 years, depending on the type of patent issued. Essentially a patent protects your intellectual property and prevents anyone other than you, the inventor, from reproducing, altering, or selling your invention while the patent is active. If someone does violate your patent rights, while the patent is active, you can take legal action against them.
In almost all cases, the answer is yes! A patent protects your invention from being stolen and prevents someone from making money off of your idea. If anyone violates the patent, you can take legal action against them for patent infringement. Patents are also a good way to gain recognition for your invention as they list you as the inventor.
There are three types of patents: utility, design, and plant, each with their own criteria for getting a patent. In the product design and development industry we only deal with the first two types of patents.
- Utility patents - these are the most common types of patents and are granted to inventors of new products, processes, or machines.
- Design patents - these patents are given to those who invent a new aesthetic design of a product, such as a new shape or non functional part.
- Plant patents - plant patents are granted to persons who invent a new type of plant.
A provisional patent is a temporary patent that grants you patent rights while you work on and finalize your invention. This is also commonly referred to as "patent pending". Provisional patents are granted for a year and unlike regular patents, which can be extended, provisional patents expire after that year is up. Provisional patents are not full patents and you cannot submit a provisional patent application in lieu of a formal patent application. Provisional patents provide a low cost option that buys you time to develop your invention and fully patent your idea.
Depending on the complexity and type of invention, patent costs can vary widely. There are filing fees paid to the USPTO to file and maintain your patent rights throughout the life of the patent. Filing fees can vary, but you can check the current fee schedule on the USPTO website. There are also attorney fees to consider, which can vary from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands. Yes, you can go through the patent process without a patent attorney, but we strongly advise against it. Navigating the patent landscape is a long and difficult process and without the right knowledge and tools you could find yourself lost along the way. A good patent attorney, in this instance, is well worth the money.
To apply for a patent, or a provisional patent, online you must do so through the USPTO's electronic filing system, EFS-Web. Before you even attempt to file your patent application, be sure to have all your patent research completed and documents ready. If all documentation is not completed or is completed incorrectly, your patent application will most likely be rejected. There are several documents you will need, depending on the type of patent and the complexity of your invention. At the very least, you will need:
- Specification - The specification is a written description of your invention
- Claims - Claims define, in specific legal language, what your invention does
- Drawings - These are drawings of your invention that detail what you are patenting
Again, this only scratches the surface of what you may need to correctly file your patent application. We highly recommend consulting a patent attorney to help you navigate the patent application process as well as properly compile all required documentation. For more information on applying for a patent, visit the USPTO's website.