What’s the best way to go about getting an idea patented?
The road to patenting is a long one (years), and you need to be prepared and also file at the right time. This is my list of the considerations around patenting built up from my experience in my years of practice:
- You need to convert your idea/concept into one or more working prototypes. You need the technical expertise to do this.
- You need funding. Patenting is expensive.
- Choose the right time to file a patent. If too early, the scope of the patent may be too broad or not supported by the prototype examples. Filing too late is also problematic because others may have filed or published before you and that can stop you getting a valid patent.
- Keep the invention secret before filing a patent application. Some jurisdictions have no grace periods and disclosing your invention before filing a patent will prevent you from getting a valid patent there. Also, grace period provisions vary widely and often do not protect inventors trying to make use of them.
- Avoid ownership disputes. Cover off ownership of the invention with others who are helping to develop it and make use of NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) with people you need to show the invention to before you at least have a patent application filed.
- Research the prior art base (what was published and used before your patent) to see if your invention is novel and inventive. If your invention is not novel and inventive, you cannot get a valid patent. Also, the way the specification is drafted should be done taking into account the prior art base.
- Get the patent specification professionally prepared. Self-filed specifications are, in my experience, a waste of time and effort.
- Be aware that not all inventions are patentable. Software-based inventions and business inventions are difficult to patent in the current climate. Other things that people struggle with are scientific discoveries/theories that, while brilliantly conceived, are not in themselves capable of patent protection. For example, Einstein’s E=mc2 is a scientific theory that gave rise to nuclear power and nuclear weapons (that themselves were potentially patentable), but the underlying concept itself was not patentable.
- Don’t give up at the first hurdle. Patents are examined, and examiners often find issues with the patent application. Sometimes these are minor. Other times, they seem major but can be overcome. Don’t give up too early!
- Patents can play an important role in the commercialisation of an invention to market, but I have seen marginal inventions wildly succeed commercially, and fantastic inventions fail dismally. This was not due to the patenting or the merit of the invention but due to the way these were commercialised. Patenting is only one step in that journey and commercialisation is often very hard work. Inventors often do not understand that the challenge in making money from an invention is part of a much bigger picture than merely patenting something.