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I think I invented something and I’d like to patent it. What do I do now?
Talk to a patent attorney. Before you make any public uses or disclosures of your invention, before you offer it for sale to anyone, and before you publish anything describing your invention, talk to a patent attorney, as each of these actions can have a negative impact on the patentability of your invention. If you’ve already done one of these things, it is even more imperative that you talk to a patent attorney to determine whether you still have rights to your invention, because there is only a 1 year grace period in the
What will a patent attorney do for me?
A patent attorney will discuss the legal requirements that must be met before the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) will grant you a patent, and will also discuss your invention with you to learn about the invention so that he or she can draft a patent application and file the patent application on your behalf in the USPTO. A patent attorney may also assist with a "prior art" search, where previous patents and other documents are search to see if anyone has already created the same or a similar invention as you.
My invention is complicated. Will an attorney be able to understand it?
In order to practice patent law, patent attorneys must pass a special Patent Bar exam administered by the USPTO. In order to be eligible to take the Patent Bar, an attorney must have a scientific, engineering, or computer science degree. In addition to having a technical undergraduate degress, many patent attorneys worked in industry for before going back to law school. For example, Ross Dannenberg was an Information Systems Manager for Carnival Cruise Lines for two and a half years after getting his bachelor's degree in computer science before going back to law school.
Should I do anything to prepare to meet with the patent attorney? What level of detail and information will a patent attorney need?
A patent must describe an invention with enough detail so that someone of “ordinary skill in the art,” after reading the patent, can make and use the invention. You will therefore need to provide enough detail as if you were describing your invention to a competent person in your own field of work. A patent must also describe the “best mode” contemplated by the inventor of making and using the invention, so make note of any special tricks or modifications that need to be performed or made in order to get the invention to work best. The more of these types of details you can gather ahead of time, the more efficient the patent drafting process will go.
I’ve seen a patent before, and it had a bunch of drawings. Where do those come from?
Ideally, from you. While your patent attorney may refine the drawings and add additional drawings to help describe and illustrate your invention, you (the inventor) are in the best position to create rough (napkin) sketches or drafts of diagrams, flow charts, data flow, schematics, etc.
There are a bunch of numbered sentences at the end of a patent. What are those?
The numbered sentences at the end of the patent are the claims. Claims are required to be only one sentence, regardless of length, so they can be a little confusing. However, the claims are the “legalese” that define the boundaries of your invention, and specify what it is that others are not allowed to do. So if anyone performs every element of at least one claim in your patent, then that person infringes your patent.
Who writes the claims?
Given their importance in determining infringement of the patent, the claims should be drafted by a patent attorney. Minor variations to claim language can seriously affect the enforceability and scope of the claims, so anyone other than a patent attorney is discouraged from writing their own claims so that they don’t inadvertently give up some patent rights. Inventors are encouraged to discuss what they consider necessary and inventive aspects of their invention with their patent attorney, and then the patent attorney will craft and tailor the claims to maximize your scope of protection.
This sounds expensive. How much will preparation of the patent application cost?
Keep in mind that a patent is property and, like any other property, is an investment. Most attorneys bill by the hour, or some fraction thereof. The amount of time it takes to prepare a patent application naturally depends on the complexity of the invention, the level of detail provided, preparation by the inventor, and the number of claims required to adequately protect the invention, among other factors. Patent applications can cost $5,000 to $20,000 or more in attorneys’ fees to prepare and file, depending on a variety of these factors. An "average" complexity application is usually in the $10,000 - $15,000 range. Additional fees may be charged if a professional draftsman has to prepare drawings from the inventor’s or attorney’s sketches, typically under $1,000. There are also filing fees when you file the application in the USPTO.
How much does filing cost?
The USPTO charges various filing fees based on whether the applicant is considered a small or large business entity, and also based on the number of claims in the application. For a large business entity, filing fees about $1000 + extra claims fees if your application concludes with more than an allotted number of claims. For a small business entity, filing fees are about $500 + extra claims fees. A full schedule of fees is maintained by the USPTO.
Sounds like I can save money by doing this myself, right?Some inventors do prepare their own patent applications and file them in the USPTO themselves. This is known as representing yourself "pro se". However, even though inventors CAN represent themselves does not necessarily mean it's a good idea. Patents prosecuted pro se are often difficult to enforce against infringers because of various problems, mistakes, or oversights made during prosecution, e.g., drafting the claims too narrowly, drafting the claims so that no single legal entity can infringe them, not describing the invention in enough detail to satisfy the enablement and best mode requirements, etc.
We recognize that many small businesses and startups are on a budget, and we try to work with each client within their financial means, but there is a threshold minimum amount of money it takes to properly prepare a patent application. One way that some of our clients save money is by preparing the first draft of the "Detailed Description" that goes in the patent application. The Detailed Description is where you describe how to make and use your invention with enough detail so that someone of ordinary skill in the art could build the invention without undue experimentation. Think of the Detailed Description as a document that, if you had to hand it off to someone else, that other person could make and use the invention based on the Detailed Description without having to come back and ask you ANY questions. In fact, when preparing the Detailed Description, assume that the person you hand it off it is not even allowed to ask you any questions or get any clarifications. That should put you in the right mindset if you do decide to prepare the document yourself.
How does the USPTO determine if my invention is patentable?
An invention is patentable if it is new, useful, and nonobvious. A patent examiner will be assigned to your case, and that person will search for “prior art” such as previous patents, publications, white papers, journals, magazines, known products, etc., to determine if your invention is patentable. The patent examiner will analyze the prior art to determine whether anyone else has already invented the same thing (i.e., your invention is not new), or if your invention is a specifically suggested combination of things that have been done before (i.e., your invention is obvious). The USPTO will provide a written report, referred to as an Office Action, that details its reasoning for why or why not you should receive a patent for your invention.
How long will it take to receive an Office Action? What happens next?
Application pendency varies, but the USPTO is notoriously backlogged. Expect to wait at least 2-3 years for the USPTO to send a first Office Action. When you (or your patent attorney) does receive an Office Action, your patent attorney will analyze the arguments made by the USPTO, discuss them with you, and then craft written arguments and or claim amendments in response to the Office Action. This is the other major cost associated with obtaining a patent, and can cost $2,000 - $4,000 or more to respond to complex Office Actions.
The USPTO has determined my invention is patentable… now what?
When you receive a Notice of Allowance from the USPTO, you have three months to pay the Publication and Issue Fees ($1,700 as of this writing). It will then take the USPTO 2-4 months to assign a patent number to you and publish the patent.
The USPTO has determined my invention is not patentable. Do I have any other options?
You can always appeal a rejection by the USPTO. The first step is to appeal the examiner’s decision within the USPTO to the Board of Patent Appeals & Interferences (BPAI). If the BPAI agrees with the examiner, then you can appeal further to the federal courts of the