Patenting an idea can allow you to protect an invention (an invention resulting from an idea) from being copied. You can patent an invention and then use it to start a home business. Although we are saying “patenting an idea”, it is more correct to say “patenting an invention”.
Before patenting an invention you need to have a viable idea for a product. If you already have an idea or several ideas for products, the first thing to do is a Patent Search Online. This search is to find out how unique your idea is, and also to help you think about alternative designs and features.
I like to use Google Patent Search for an initial quick patent search. You can also use the more complete and detailed US Patent and Trademark Office search and FreePatentsOnline (FPO). These 3 Patent Search Engines will give you the best start for your patent search.
When you search patents you will be looking for any ideas that are related to your idea. There are usually some competing ideas, ideas with similarity to your idea. This is OK. If you have an idea for a new mouse trap, to use an old example, you can see how your idea compares with other patented mouse traps.
Establish a record of your ideas and inventing and searching progress. Be sure to record your inventing and patenting ideas and progress in an inventor’s notebook.
To be patentable your idea has to be useful and novel and be non-obvious (not obvious to someone who knows this field of invention). Your idea just needs to have a small difference from existing knowledge (including prior patents) to be something new.
In preparing for patenting an idea, in addition to a patent search, you should also do a product search using Google Shopping (google.com/shopping), other search engines, retail stores and catalogs. You can see what related ideas are already out there, so you can then assess how unique your idea is. Also, you may be able to use a product search to find patentable ideas, or to inspire you to branch into a new idea. In order to receive a patent, your idea and resulting invention has to be something new. It is a good idea to take notes during your product search.
Along with patent and product searching, you also need to determine how your idea fits into a potential business. How much will it cost to develop the idea into a commercial product? What will it cost to manufacture and distribute? You don’t want to work hard getting something patented that will be way larger or costlier than you can develop into a commercial product, and may be difficult to make and sell easily.
Will you be able to sell your invention? Does it have commercial potential that will provide the basis for a home business? See Patent Search Online near the end of that page for a discussion of evaluating commercial potential.
Is a patent absolutely necessary? The answer is a qualified NO! It depends on the type of product your invention is and on your marketing plans. If you can develop and produce a new product quickly and get it into the marketing stream before competitors, you may not need a patent.
One convenient plan in patenting an idea is to file a provisional patent application first, as soon as you are satisfied that you have a viable invention. This is done before dealing with the details of applying for a regular patent. This is a quick way to begin to protect your invention because there is no examination of the contents of this type of application. It establishes a priority date, a date that can prove that you have pre-dated a competitor’s regular patent.
The provisional patent application is automatically accepted and filed by the US Patent and Trademark Office. A limitation is that it will be in effect for just a year. During this year you can sell or license your idea. By the end of this year you must have applied for a regular patent in order to gain legal protection.
You can decide to patent your idea by working on the patent entirely by yourself, or you may decide to get help searching and to get the help of a patent attorney to write your patent documents. These services may help you to actually get the patent work done and move on with the development and patenting of an idea that you have had for a while.
The nuts and bolts of patentability and of actually getting a regular patent are summarized in Patent a Product.
After you have completed patenting an idea (in other words applying for a regular patent for your invention) you can use “patent Pending” or “patent applied for” on your invention. Your can put this phrase on the patented item and on product literature. Within 1 to 3 years your patent will issue if the invention passes successfully through the patent office.
After applying for a provisional or a regular patent you can make and sell your invention with the hope that the patent will be issued and that your invention will be legally protected. But you don’t need to have a patent in effect to make and sell a product. Some products are never patented. You ought to determine whether a patent is active for any product you intend to make and sell.
After patenting an idea will you then consider licensing your patented product or do you want to produce and sell it yourself? Licensing allows an existing manufacturer hungry for new products to pay you a royalty for the right to make and sell your product. You can also make a licensing agreement that will have the licensor legally defend your patent. You don’t have to wait for a regular patent to issue to license the product or sell your products yourself.
There are many good books about inventing, patenting, preparation of patent documents and other topics for patenting an idea.
At many of the search sites you can get details about searching for pending patents, provisional patents (US provisional patents can’t be searched) and patent applications.
There are additional Patent Search Sites for countries other than the US that you can check during your search. These may also be useful in case you decide to go for international patents. This page will also help you when you are a resident of another country, or patenting an invention in a country other than the US.