How do I apply for a patent in the US?

I have an idea for a method that I want to patent in the USPTO. I did a search and didn’t find any patent even remotely similar.

I read their website and they recommend to make the application through a patent lawyer. How does that work? Do I send them the patent text, they polish it and apply it for me? What if they take my idea and patent it on their behalf?

Also note that I am not a US citizen and I currently live 10 time zones away from the US.

Is this you as an individual or do you represent a company?

If you are an individual trying to patent something, you need to really consider whether or not this is something that you want to do. The process costs thousands of dollars, to start with. And then people think that if you have a patent you have some kind of automatic protection. You don’t. Nothing happens automatically. There are no “patent police”. If someone infringes on your patent, you will not be notified. You have to find out about it on your own. And then you have to take whatever legal action is necessary on your own. If a large company is infringing on your patent, and they find out that you are an individual with limited financial resources, they can take the strategy of basically trying to lawyer you to death. They can file motion after motion and drag out the process, causing you to spend a small fortune in legal fees and such. Maybe they can tie up your patent in court while they file a similar patent that is just different enough to go through the system. Then they profit on their patent while yours becomes worthless. There are all sorts of tricks they can pull to make your life difficult. Can you afford to sue someone in a U.S. court in a process that could take years and require thousands and thousands of dollars in lawyer fees, with no guarantee of success at the end of it? A lot of people can’t. This is one of the reasons some folks say the patent system needs overhauled. It doesn’t work very well for little guys who don’t have a whole lot of money.

That said, even though you might face an uphill battle, it is possible for individuals to successfully defend patents. I’m just warning you that it can be a very difficult and expensive process.

If you still want to get a patent, then you need to contact a lawyer who specializes in this sort of thing. It’s easy enough in the U.S. to find a lawyer with patent experience, and there generally isn’t any risk of them stealing your patent as that would be the end of their career as a lawyer. They will walk you through the paperwork and procedures required. It’s a difficult enough process that you really need someone with experience to lead you through it.

Unfortunately I don’t have a clue about how you would find a lawyer in another country who has experience with U.S. patent law. You may be better off finding a lawyer in the U.S. and working with them long distance.

ETA: The patent lawyer will most likely end up writing most of the text of the patent for you. These things have to be very specific in the way they are worded. There are certain phrases that have accepted meaning through years of being used in patent law. If you don’t use these phrases properly you open yourself up to all sorts of interpretation problems. The lawyer will know how to translate your idea into the proper legal-speak.

Thank you for the answer.

What I am thinking to patent is a method for doing something in a specific industry. The technology for doing it exists right now, and I have my reasons to believe that when this method catches on (maybe 5-10 years from now) it will be employed widely in that specific industry.

Or maybe the whole industry will move towards an entirely different route and render my method totally irrelevant.

I know that as an individual I don’t have the resources to go against a big company, but if my method is widely used and my case is rock solid I hope I can get into an arrangement with a law firm to have them work for a share of the settlement.

One thing you can do before hiring an attorney is submit a provisional patent application. This requires a detailed description of your method, along with any drawings necessary to understand it, and you can probably prepare it yourself without an attorney. It gives you a filing date, but it also starts the clock on the full patent application - you have one year from the provisional application to file a full application. If you file the application within the one year period and the patent is granted, the effective date is the date of the provisional application. If you miss the deadline, though, you’re done. From what I remember, there’s no flexibility in that timeline, but it’s been about ten years since I was involved in any applications.

To find a US patent attorney from your location, I’d look for a law firm that does local intellectual property work and ask if they have anybody on staff who’s licensed to practice in the United States - even if they don’t, maybe they can refer you to somebody they know.

It costs $10,000 to $15,000 to get a patent granted. You’re not going to find a patent attorney willing to do that for a potential share of the back end. Maybe you can find an investor.

This is straying into IMHO territory, but I don’t think that partnering with the law firm is realistic at all. You are expecting them to be both a lawyer and a speculative investor. Most lawyers aren’t in the investment business. It’s too risky.

This isn’t to say that you can’t partner with someone, though. You probably need to look instead to outside investors or maybe someone in the industry to partner with. Make sure you sign non-disclosure agreements before you talk details with anyone. An investor with deep pockets will be able to not only afford all of the up-front fees but also since they have a stake in the future of the patent, they will have both the ability and the desire to fight for it in court if it becomes necessary.

Ideas are a dime a dozen. If you want to convince an investor you are going to need a solid detailed plan showing expected earnings, with plenty of solid data to back the numbers up. Just going to someone with a great idea isn’t likely to get you very far.

Maybe I didn’t make myself clear. I didn’t expect the law firm to sponsor my patent from beginning to end. I am prepared to pay myself for the application stage.

What I am saying is that if and when my patent is used by the big players in the industry AND there’s a good chance of winning a big settlement, then a law firm could work for a percentage on the settlement. I don’t think this is unreasonable if I am lucky enough to reach this stage and have a rock-solid case.

Ok, I know there are too many ifs and buts there. I should stop dreaming now.

I don’t want to speak for engineer_comp_geek, but I think he understood what you had in mind when he said it’s not realistic. And speaking for myself, I agree it’s not at all realistic.

But that’s fine, you’re asking about the patent process in general.

It is probably worth investing a little brain power in understanding the whole process. When I was looking at patenting some stuff about five years ago I got Patent Pending in 24 Hours
by Richard Stim & David Pressman, which was available as an eBook. It was an easy read and well written, and seemed to cover the ground well. I notice that Pressman now has Patent it Yourself out. You could do worse than spend the few dollars and have a read.