Have you invented the next big thing? Built a better mousetrap? If you invent or discover a new and useful “process, machine, manufacture, or composition thereof” you can apply for a federal patent to protect your invention from being used by others without your permission.
Do you remember the first video arcade game, Pong? Invented by Atari, the game was a cultural phenomenon. Atari had the all-important first mover’s advantage and should today be in the same league as X Box, Wii, and PlayStation, but is not. Why? Because they waited too long to get a patent, and by the time they did, there were already knockoff Pong games on the market.
There are three BASIC types of patents:
- Utility patents protect machines and industrial processes and last for 20 years.
- Design patents protect designs of manufactured items and last for 14 years.
- Plant design patents (rare) protect new plant varieties and last for 20 years.
The overall process for acquiring a patent is:
The first thing to do is to go to the website for the United States patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) – www.uspto.gov. There, you can do a quick search to see if there are any other exact inventions already patented. If there are similar patents out there, it may be that yours is different enough to still be patentable. Only a patent lawyer could tell you for sure. Expect to easily spend a few thousand dollars to have a patent lawyer research your invention and its protectability.
Submit a patent application
Once you have decided that your invention is unique enough to warrant a patent, you need to hire an attorney to draft and file a patent application. Although some facets of what is known as Intellectual Property law can be done without the aid of attorney (trademark applications for example and copyrights), patents are complicated enough that expert legal help is required.
A patent application usually consists of:
- An invention background (why your invention, even if similar to others, is still unique)
- A summary of the invention (how the invention fills a need)
- A detailed description of the “embodiments” of the invention (examples of the invention)
- A set of claims (the scope of the requested patent), and
- An abstract (a brief description of the invention)
- Fees for search, examination, analysis, etc.
After you file your application, it will take between six months to two years before you hear from the USPTO. Don’t be discouraged if your application is rejected, as that often happens. Your lawyer will go back and explain to the patent office why their decision is wrong and should be reversed. Claims are usually rejected because:
- The language in the application was too vague
- The description of the invention was insufficient
- The invention is not unique enough
File amendments if necessary
An amendment to your application may be necessary. After you file it/them, you will either receive an approval, or a “final rejection” (only in the government is a “final rejection” not final and actually appealable.) If you receive an acceptance, or what is known as a “patent allowance”, you will need to pay an issuance fee. Other additional fees are required every few years.
Although this is a cumbersome and fairly expensive process, if you have in fact invented something unique, you need to protect it by obtaining a patent in order to help maximize the lifetime value of your creation.
Eric S. Degen, CPA Titan Accountancy, LLC
accounting and advisory services