1. Avoid Disclosing Your Invention to the Public
Public disclosure refers to situations where an inventor makes non-confidential communication to an individual or general public, revealing their invention and enabling someone “skilled in the art” to replicate the invention.
It’s important to not reveal your invention to anyone, simply because the USPTO will not grant a patent for an invention that has prior art. Prior art is considered any evidence that your invention is already known, even if your invention doesn’t physically exist or isn’t commercially available. This includes the napkin sketches that you shared with your friend at a bar, that Facebook post you made about how your invention is going to save the world, and yes, even your Kickstarter campaign that raised $275 with the goal of $500,000.
Of course, there are situations where it’s necessary to share details about your concept during the development process. The best course of action to avoid public disclosure would be to get a provisional patent on file as soon as possible. In the US, we are in a “first-to-file” system, which means a patent will be awarded to the first inventor to file a patent application (not the first inventor to create the invention). Getting your patent application on file will give you a priority date that grants you the rights to your novel invention, and gives you a 12 month period to advance your concept before filing a non-provisional patent.
If you feel that your invention isn’t quite ready for patent protection, creating a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with manufacturers, licensing partners, distributors, and other third-parties will enable you to share proprietary information without it being considered public disclosure.
Public disclosure is one of the most common mistakes inventors make before they even have the chance to start the patent process. Keep your invention confidential!
2. Prepare a Set of Pictures, Drawings and/or Figures
Visualizing a concept is one of the best things an inventor can do to communicate the functionality of an idea to a patent attorney. In terms of developing your intellectual property protection, there is a lot of truth in the overused cliche, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
While prototypes are great to have for a patent consultation meeting, they are absolutely necessary. Generating some sketches done on paper, renderings created with 3d modeling software, or other ways of graphically depicting your idea will be immensely helpful for a patent attorney while learning about your invention.
Images make it easier to digest complex information. Even if your artistic abilities are severely lacking, try your best to come up with a visual representation of your idea before meeting with a patent attorney.
It may be worth your time to learn how to use a program like Sketchup, which is a powerful (and free!) web browser tool that allows users to create customized 3d models.
3. Formulate a Budget
It’s important to establish some guidelines and expectations for how you will spend your money throughout the patent process.
There are a handful of variables that will come into play while estimating the total cost of patenting your invention. What technology is involved in the invention? How complex is the invention? Does the patent application need to be filed on a tight deadline? How many drawings need to be included?
While filing a patent can be accomplished on a shoestring budget, keep in mind that you get what you pay for.
A well-done provisional patent application prepared by a patent attorney or patent agent typically will cost around $3,000 – $5,000, and a non-provisional will cost anywhere from $5,000 – $15,000. An experienced patent attorney should be able to give you a more focused estimated cost during your initial consultation meeting.
4. Perform Your Own Patent Search
The internet holds a wealth of easily-accessible patent information that can help give context to the landscape in which your idea exists. Tools like Google Patents and USPTO Patent Database make it easy to get a sense of how your invention compares to other concepts in the same field.
Although it’s always recommended to have a patent attorney or patent agent conduct a professional patent search, it’s worth your time to investigate on your own as well. You may be surprised at what you find.
5. Educate Yourself About the Patent Process
The patent process can seem complex and intimidating, but there are plenty of resources to help you gain a better perspective of how it works.
Check out this two-part video about the six main phases of patent prosecution:
Not only should you have a general idea of how the patent process operates, you should also consider other types of intellectual property that may help protect your startup. Copyrights and trademarks could potentially be complementary assets to your patent.