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What is a Patent and Why Would You Need One?

The world is full of big ideas. And when those ideas—from the steam engine to intermittent wipers, to computer graphics interfaces—are disputed, a patent is your first line of defense.

If you have a unique solution to a common (or even uncommon) problem, you should consider filing a patent. A patent isn’t right for every situation, but let’s take a look and see what a patent is, and why it might be the right move in your situation.

Why would you need a patent?

The need for a patent is usually pretty obvious. You develop something unique and you want to be able to reap the rewards of that development without having others steal the idea and run with it in the marketplace. A patent protects you by excluding others from making, using, selling, or importing an invention. It gives you legal recourse when others violate the patent provisions.

Patents can generate income through a business developed to include a product with the patented idea. If manufacturing is not something you are prepared to do, the patent can also generate residual income by enabling you to enlist someone else to produce and sell your invention while providing you with a set percentage of the income from the patented invention.

Types of Patents

  • Utility – Here’s the legal description from the patent office: “A utility patent may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.”   What the heck is a composition of matter? This would be chemical substances including single substance compounds and compositions made of two or more elements. Utility patents are the most common patent.
  • Design – A design patent is exactly what you would expect and “may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.”
  • Plant – “may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.” Monsanto would be one example of a company that files plant patents.

The first patent issued in what would become the United States occurred in 1641 in the state of Massachusetts when Samuel Winslow developed a process for making salt. There is a patent provision in Article 1 of the US Constitution, with federal patent law developing from there.

You may think patents are only for huge, multi-national corporations. And it’s true, big companies with big R&D budgets do suck up a lot of the oxygen in the US Patent Office.  But small companies and entrepreneurs should not feel pushed out of the process by large companies. The IBMs and Microsofts of the world might garner the most patents in a given year (it was IBM in 2018) but if you have something of value, you owe it to yourself to understand the process and take it as seriously as the big players do.

It is not a simple process, but with the right tools, small businesses and entrepreneurs can enjoy the protections and the fruits of their intellectual property.

The Patent Process

The US Patent and Trademark Office provides a very helpful roadmap to the patent process. The online process will walk you through questions like, what kind of intellectual property protection do I need? Is my invention patentable? What do I need in order to apply?

If you have an idea you are convinced can win in the marketplace, it might be worthwhile having someone work alongside you. You might even want to consider hiring a patent lawyer to guide the patent process.

I don’t want to sugar-coat it. Applying for and receiving a patent can be a long and challenging process. But if you have something you think is of value, and you’ve tested it from both a product viability standpoint and a patent viability standpoint, it could be a very smart financial decision in the long run.

To help with your patent journey, we have included some resource sites below:

https://www.uspto.gov/patents-getting-started/patent-process-overview#step1 http://www.intellectualpropertylawfirms.com/resources/intellectual-property/patents/small-business.htm https://www.sba.com/running-a-business/patent/ http://fortune.com/2019/01/07/ibm-tops-2018-patent-list-as-ai-and-quantum-computing-gain-prominence/