I have an idea that I believe is patentable. It would have to be sold to a company in the field to make it to market, as I don’t have the resources to develop it. I have discussed the idea with experts in the field, and they were excited about the idea and indicated that it is something they would love to see available.
Have any dopers invented anything, patented it and sold the patent? Where do I begin?
My honest advice to you on where to begin is to obtain the services of an experienced patent-prosecution attorney and ask his or her advice.*
While it is possible to go through the process of obtaining a U.S. patent for something on your own as a layperson, I would seriously, seriously recommend you seek professional assistance from a patent-prosecution attorney. Speaking as a member of the patent bar, obtaining a patent is an incredibly detailed and technically demanding procedure. While the USPTO will do whatever they can to make the process as painless as possible for a layperson, the phrase “as painless as possible” in this context is fairly misleading. Think of it this way: the process of obtaining a patent is sufficiently persnickety and complicated and formalized that there is a whole seperate bar examination required of lawyers who want to get into that line of work. It is the only area of law that requires a specialized examination before you’re considered competant to undertake work in the area.
I should also point out that you are going to be required to provide something more concrete than an idea. You are, in fact, going to have to produce a fuctional prototype (or a detailed schematic for producing such a functional prototype). One cannot obtain a patent for merely an idea under U.S. patent law. Without more detailed information about what your idea entails (do not give this to me on a public message board!), I cannot offer any more substantive advice. The email in my profile should be live if you’d prefer more private advice after answering some questions - but my advice is going to be primarily as stated in my first sentence.
*I am a lawyer, but I am not your lawyer. I may or may not practice law in your jurisdiction. This is not a legal consultation. Etc. And so forth. And so on.
Making a functional prototype is difficult, as it will require technology that I don’t possess (I don’t happen to own a semi-conductor fab). The advice to hire an attorney, while good, seems to be a much later step than where I’m at right now. I don’t have the money to hire an attorney to defend against a ticket for jaywalking at the moment.
I can produce graphics and a written description of the idea, which should be enough to see if the idea has enough merit to develop into a prototype. I can mock the idea up as a proof of the concept, but the mock-up will be substantially different from how the device will appear in a final product.
So, at this VERY early stage, how do I establish that I have thought of this idea? Will Non-Disclosure agreements be enough to protect me while I seek a partner with the resources to produce a prototype.
I am also a member of the patent bar (but not your lawyer, etc., etc.), and you definitely do not have to have a working prototype. I would say that fewer than 30% of the inventions I have obtained patents for existed in physical form at the time of filing. Reduction to practice is required, but it may be “constructive reduction to practice,” which means you can write a description sufficient to enable a person of ordinary skill in the art to make and use the invention without undue experimentation (some subtleties omitted - this is a legal discussion, after all).
Hiring an attorney really is the first step. A nondisclosure agreement may protect you, but it can be an inadequate shield. Also, it sounds like you’ve already talked to some people, so it’s possible that you have already started a clock ticking - no more one year from first “publication” (which does not mean what it sounds like) until filing. (That’s in the US - in most other countries, if you blab before filing, you are SOL.)
If you absolutely cannot afford an attorney and you want to shop the idea around, you can consider filing a provisional patent application to give you a little more protection than the nondisclosure agreement. It must, at a minimum, communicate to one of ordinary skill in the art that you are in possession of the invention (that you actually have invented all the details of what will ultimately be in the claims of any patent you have received), “enable” the invention as described above, and describe the best way that you currently know of practicing the invention. So put in everything you can think about the invention. The provisional does not become public unless you file a “real” application based on it within a year of filing the provisional, so you can afford to tell all. You can learn more about the requirements for provisional applications, and how to file one, at http://www.uspto.gov.
I have several patents, assigned to the company I work for. Even with the company’s money and help, they were a pain to create. Lots of forms, lots of time with lawyers, lots of time tediously going over every detail of the patent application itself, and then lots of time waiting for the patent office to respond.
I have filed for 31 patents (to date), of which 17 have been issued as US patents. (I have more internationally) It does indeed take years between the time of filing and issuance. So far, I am in the black by a sizable sum of money, so it was definitely worth the time and effort for me. Not sure if the average inventor fares as well. Judging from the horror stories on American Inventor, a lot of folks have lost money trying to patent their ideas.
I’ve got four patents, but they were done through my employer at the time, who hired the lawyer. I actually wrote most of the patent description, which was taken directly from my in-house memos. But I didn’t have tio deal with the boilerplate and the filing, so I can’t help you there. It is a lengthy process (I didn’t actually receive the patents until well after I left the company), and it does cost.
As others have noted, you don’t have to build a model*, and in many cases, it’s not possible or relevant. How do you build a model of computer code, or a chemical engineering process. I’ve seen plenty of patents for things that I can see at a glance are clearly unworkable – how they got through the system I cannot imagine. Some patents seem to violate the patent office’s own requirements – Patent 5443036 is for Method of Exercising a Cat – it’s basically saying that you can use a laser pointer to exercise your cat: http://www.patentstorm.us/patents/5443036.html
I still can’t believe this idea was granted a patent. It’s not a patent for a laser pointer or a cat exerciser using a laser pointer – the patent (I’ve read it) merely says that you can use an existing laser pointer to play with your cat, who will chase it. There’s nothing new or, to my mind, patentable. The classic “non patentable idea” of putting an eraser on a pencil seems infinitely more clever and practical than this. Moreover, the idea long predates the patent’s 1995 date. I had friends doing this 20 years earlier. The idea was even published in a book about ten years before the patent!
The Library at Stevens Institute of Technology is, or at least used to be, decorated with Patent Models that you at one time had to produce. They’re very clever, pretty, and decorative.