1. Follow through with an idea you've created.
Turning an idea into a lucrative patent is easier than you might think. Everyone's thought it, "This could be better if...," and had the next great idea, but they skip one MAJOR step, and that's follow through. In these days of uncertainty and job insecurity, shouldn't you have faith in yourself?
Just look for a way to improve an existing product, or take a real challenge from everyday life and provide a solution. Although simple ideas are easier to market, and cheaper to patent, don't be afraid to tackle a complex idea if it's solving a universal problem.
2. Record your idea with a few drawings.
You need to build a foundation for your new idea. Below are a few suggestions that might help. (Remember, these are mostly for brainstorming purposes, and although they can be used in court as evidence, this information in now way replaces a patent.)
Maintain a journal where you can jot down ideas, and scribble out pictures. It also helps to have a witness sign and date each entry. The best witnesses are credible sources, such as professionals (i.e. lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers, etc.), but as they might tend to charge for such a service, a coworker or friend will achieve the same goal.
Using a computer might also prove worthwhile. Files contain important information like "Date Created" and "Date Last Modified." The tricky thing about computer files is creating pictures, and unless you're an engineer with technical programs, scanning in drawings may become overwhelming.
Which leads me to my next method of keeping a record of your ideas, and that's using an engineer. Whether you have a friend who's good at committing abstract ideas to concrete solutions on paper, or you want to hire an engineering design firm for drawings, this is a good step. It's also helpful because if you're not a technical person yourself, the friend or engineer can also troubleshoot the idea early to let you know if it's going to work or not. Again, all drawings should be signed and dated.
3. Conduct an informal patent search.
This step will be the most work, but I find it best to just take an evening or weekend afternoon and just get it done. Nothing in this step needs to get real technical, as a good patent lawyer will want to do an official search to make sure he/she is not wasting time for either party. The overall goal of this step is to make sure your idea is not currently patented.
Online searches are best, and try to research by the simplest description of your idea. You should also include alternate definitions of your idea, as some people would describe your idea differently. (An example of this is when I came up for the idea of the "Nearly" Universal OH. It wasn't enough to research just "cup holder," I had to research similar terms like "beverage holder" and "drink holder.")
There are subscription and non-subscription based patent search sites, so use a search engine or try Google's beta Patent search at http://www.google.com/patents.
4. Generate a list of patent lawyers and interview them.
Less work than the last step, but finding a good lawyer will still take some effort. What you're trying to accomplish here is finding a lawyer you feel comfortable with. Most lawyers will do a quick consultation over the phone, but need cash to meet face to face. I thanked these types of lawyers for their time, but moved on. To me it seemed like buying the car, AND THEN taking it for a test drive.
Finding a good lawyer requires calling more than one, and some might have a low fee or free initial consultation in their offices. I'm not saying you should be wasting their time, but as you now believe in and are committed to your idea, this is where you'll gather the information you need to actually apply for a patent. Make sure to take your records and drawings with you, and as was said earlier, most patent lawyers have engineering backgrounds and can tell you if your idea will work or not.
Key questions to ask are about costs and timelines. Ask for ballpark figures, and although you can't hold them to those, a good professional tends to give "worst case scenario" estimates. What will the patent search run? How quick is the turnaround? Who conducts the patent search (i.e. in-house or contracted outside)? How much will the filing of the patent cost? Average time until patent is approved? What costs could be involved after a patent is issued? Also ask if the firm has applied for patents similar to your idea as far as complexity.
5. Now that you've found a patent lawyer, it's time for a patent.
I want to make a note here to avoid those "too good to be true" "do it yourself" patent schemes online. A patent lawyer goes through a lot of schooling and work experience to learn the patent process. When your great idea eventually takes off, you want maximum protection, and only a proper filing of the patent can achieve that. (Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, chances are that it is.)
The proper way to do this is by choosing a professional you feel comfortable with, is within your budget, and has the experience to file for your patent properly. "Within your budget" will most likely be the important factor, as filing for a patent is an expensive process.
Although every filing is different, here are a few figures from my experiences when filing. (Remember, my simple mind comes up with simple ideas, so my filings have been towards the low end.) Patent searches ran between $800 and $1,200 US. Filings were right around $8,000 US, with extra money in case the claim on the patent had to be argued in court. (I chose Hughes Law Firm north of Seattle, WA. The lawyer I worked with was very understanding, explained any issues that might arise with my invention, and the prices were on the lower end of the firms I interviewed.)
Start thinking, "How can I improve the world?" With a little upfront investment, and a worthwhile idea, you'll have a bright and secure future ahead of you. Whether it's selling or licensing a product, isn't it time to believe in yourself?
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