What is involved in getting an invention patented?

Most of us have had an idea for a product at some point in our lives that we thought we might be able to patent. Unfortunately, that's about as far as most of us ever got – just thinking about it. But what if you do have an idea or invention that you'd like to take to the next level? If that's the case, then you need to understand what's involved in getting it patented.

What Is a Patent?

Before getting to the process, it's important to understand what a patent is. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (link to www.uspto.gov/) (USPTO), a patent is:

A property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor 'to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States' for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.

 The Patent Process

The process of patenting a new product or idea is not simple, in fact, it can be fairly complex. Here is the process in a nutshell:

  • Search for your product or idea. Searching to see whether your product or idea has already been patented is the first step and can include exhaustive research – not only of U.S. patent databases and patent application databases, but also on the internet and possibly from databases in foreign countries. If your basic product or idea has already been patented, then you may be out of luck. If it has not been taken, then you can complete a patent application. That sounds too easy, right? It isn't. Unfortunately, patent searches will usually reveal that a similar product or idea has already been patented. That may require the patent seeker to alter the product or idea to make it less similar.
  • Apply for a patent. Applying for a patent requires completing an application and submitting it to the USPTO and paying a $500 fee. However, the application is not akin to completing an employment application. It is extremely cumbersome and must be done correctly in order to protect the patent seeker's product or idea and future rights to it. Any mistakes may result in a quick denial from the USPTO.
  • Sit back. Unfortunately, this step cannot be avoided. It generally takes a year and a half to two years for the USPTO to even review the application. After that, it could take another six months to a year to have a patent issued – if it gets issued at all. According to the USPTO, although hundreds of thousands of patents are reviewed every year, the allowance rate for patents is currently 44%. This is in contrast to allowance rates in excess of 70% just eight years ago.

Once you have a patent, it lasts for 20 years and may become your most valuable asset. Many people who have gone through the process say that it's a bit like buying a house. The process can be overwhelming and frustrating, but undeniably worthwhile once completed. To take that next step, contact an experienced patent attorney to discuss your idea.