Some of those who advertise “we’ll get you your patent” have been known to trick clients into getting a design patent only (vs. a utility patent). A design patent is simply based on the “looks” (pattern, shape, etc.) of the thing.
This will not protect you much! You want a utility patent!
You can file a “Provisional” patent application which remains active up to one year…at which point you must file a “Non-Provisional” patent application, if you wish to proceed. This is a short-cut many inventors take because:
a) You can test market your product and see if it worth pursuing further.
b) It is an informal, less rigorous application
c) If you file a Non-Provisional application in a timely fashion thereafter, you can get the benefit of having the earlier filing date (i.e.: priority date) …but, the life of your patent (if granted) will start from this earlier filing date, too.
Recall: The life of a patent is 14 years from the filing date, and not 20 years from the issue date - as it once was.
Cranky, great minds think alike! I thought this was a good method, but I have learned the courts tend to protect the Patent Office’s methods. Unfortunately, mailing it to yourself as we suggested may not carry much weight…
Mu suggestion would be to share your idea with a few trusted friends… not relatives… and if they all agree that it’s a no brainer then you can form a simple partnership and share the cost of the patent (and partnership stuff) across three or four people.
If the idea takes off you split the spoils with the partners… if not, you’re not out the entire amount. It’s called spreading the risk… of course that means spreading the rewards too! But no patent means no protection.
You have a good point, but I really am referring to practicle inventions. Again, I know I’m being a jerk pointing this out, but everybody has a brilliant idea. It’s hard work that turns it into something. And for the record, I have 12 patents and a few more in the pipeline, so I’m not totally inexperienced here. I work in the high-tech world, and know dozens of founders of successful companies (I’ve had the good fortune to start a few myself). Each of those founders had an idea, but it wasn’t the idea that made them their money; it was the years of very hard work that came after the idea.
Also, as I’m in this world, a lot of people come to me and say “I’ve got a great idea that could make a lot of money.” And most of those ideas really are good ideas. But as I say, the vast majority of them become nothing because the invention really isn’t that big a deal. It’s what you do with it.
Sorry for the gloom and doom. fandango, your best course is the provisional patent route already called out. Expect to pay at least thousands of dollars, and if you want to do it right, 10-20 thousand dollars. How confident are you that a) this is a good idea and b) (more importantly) Company XYZ will actually see the value and pay you handsomely?
The idea about mailing to yourself isn’t very good. The patent office and process exists for a very specific reason, so people can protect their ideas. Creating your own proprietary patent process isn’t going to get very far.
And the reason for the cost: When you write up a patent, you’re doing a lot more than just writing down your idea. First off, you want to make your idea cover as much ground as possible, so that you cover as many uses as possible. Also, you want to make it as specific as possible, so that if it’s shown later that someone did something like you did on a big scale, you can show a specific claim that sticks. Let me give you an example: Say you invent a convertable car. You want to go as big as possible, so you lay claim to inventing the vehicle. I.e Anything with four wheels and a driver seat. Then you get a little more specific: four wheels a driver seat and a convertable top. Then even more specific: 4 wheels, a seat, a top that is removable, and has an automatic motor to open and close it. You come up with maybe 10-20 claims. That way if someone builds a van, you’ve got the patent. But if it’s later shown that someone patented a van before you, you can still drop to your next claim, etc. Also, these claims aren’t strictly general to specific, there will also be peer claims, so the whole patent can be laid out as a hierarchical tree. Defining and Writing up the specifics of each node of that tree is what a patent lawyer gets paid for, and there’s a reason it costs a lot.
Also, a lawyer will do research on similar claims, also very important.
If you’d like, you can find plenty of do-it-yourself books on the topic, but if you can find the cash, a lawyers better.
And so I’m not completely negative here, a sincere Good Luck!