Patent protection?

I have a dog product I would like to patent if it works as well as I am hoping. I will have to do a period of testing involving dogs most likely at the dog park. How can I protect my product before I have actually finished testing and before applying for a patent? It did pass the test on a few of the families dogs.

If you are merely trying to protect your right to practice the invention, there are web sites where you can publish your invention for a small fee. In principle, this will prevent others from patenting your idea or enforcing a patent if they get one.

If you want a license to sue others for practicing your invention, you’ll need a patent. If you aren’t yet sure that you want to file for one, you should consider filing a provisional application, which is easier and less expensive. That will give you 12 months to prepare a regular patent application and give you the benefit of the earlier filing date.

You can also just keep the invention secret and hope no one else patents the same idea. If you need to let others know about the invention in order to test it, you can ask them to sign a confidential disclosure agreement.

Thanks the provisional sounds like it might give me what I need. I would prefer the public testing at the dog park because of the high volume of test subjects it might speed up the refinement process.

Recent US patent law changes have given right to the first to file (it used to be first to invent). So your best bet is to file a provisional application ASAP and see if you can get a licensee to foot the bill for a non-provisional application. The non-provisional application has to be filed before the provisional expires, which is a year after filing.

OR, if you have several grand laying around you can file straight to non-provisional, but that’s a lot more expensive (before you even get to lawyer fees, which you will need)…

You know, I’ve always wondered about that. If I come up with a great idea, but I need to hire some people to help me with whatever tasks need to be finished before I can get my patent, how do I protect myself?

I can get them to sign confidentiality agreements, but does that really help me? If one of my helpers goes and files a patent before I do, what can I practically do?

I suppose I can go after them for monetary damages, but can I force them to hand over the patent?

First, you should hire trustworthy people.

Second, most large corporations have their professional employees execute patent assignment agreements. They basically state that the employee assigns to the employer any patent rights acquired during the course of their employment, including those for inventions discovered on their own time. No reason you can’t require the same of your employees. Of course, this doesn’t affect third parties, so if your employee violates their secrecy agreement and tells some unrelated third party about your invention and they are too broke to recover any damages from, you are screwed.

Third, if you are serious about filing a patent, you really should have a qualified patent attorney. They can advise you on additional strategies to protect your rights.

Too late to edit previous post:

A patent assignment can also save you all sorts of grief if, for example, during the course of your testing you discover a problem and an employee figures out how to change your invention to get around the problem or an employee suggests some sort of an improvement that you want to incorporate.

You really can’t protect yourself, and to the extent that you can the defensibility largely is not going to come from legal protections. You should get your employees to sign protective covenants but if you want to turn your idea into a successful business you need to do it quickly and effectively, build a good product, know your market better than competitors, etc.

Starting a new business out of an invention is hard and very risky. Even if you do everything right there’s no guarantee you’ll be successful. You should work hard to make your idea defensible, but realizing it’s never going to be ‘protected’ is an important first step.

Over the years I have come up with several that I never felt were worth the trouble and investment of patenting because they were specialty items. One in particular was patented by someone else a few years ago after I posted the plans on the internet. I really doubt he showed much profit even though they are selling fairly well.

I am extremely excited about this last one. I just did the initial testing last week and am even more excited now. I am starting to wonder if I should not just try to sell it to an existing manufacturer instead of just letting it peter out.