While many late night television commercials would have you believe that priority one is getting a patent, this is far from the truth. That type of message is more about boosting their sales than moving your invention closer to success.
The cold truth is that several important questions must be answered before deciding whether a patent makes sense. Some inventors are ready to proceed, while a great many others would be wasting their time and money. Use this quick and dirty checklist to see where you stand and what (if anything) you need to do before setting your sights on a patent. We have put together a Pre-Patent Checklist to help you make a good decision.
Pre-Patent Checklist Items:
1. Is there a true market for your invention?
2. How will you commercialize your invention?
3. Can you build a prototype or have one built one for you?
4. Are you prepared to get a patent?
1) Does anyone want your invention?
World-class direct marketer John Carlton once said, “a lot of people want to sell something, but just because you like it, that doesn’t mean anybody else does.” In this case, what’s true of direct marketing is true of intellectual property. It should go without saying that you should only patent something people want, but it’s astounding how many patent applications are sent in before the inventor has really established any demand at all for what he created. Obviously, this is not a situation you want to find yourself in. If you haven’t done so already, do some market research before you even think about getting a patent. Do not proceed until you can answer the following questions:
- Where are they and how can I reach them? (what magazines/newspapers do they read?)
- What quantity (and quality) do they want? (are there surveys that gather this data?)
- What is the best time to sell? (Seasonal, yearly, etc.)
2) Do you have a commercialization strategy in mind?
Once you have established a market for your invention, it’s time to consider how you will capitalize upon it. Believe it or not, there are actually several ways of commercializing a patented invention. The more lucrative but increasingly less pursued way to be the entreprenurial soldier who takes the invention from the drawing board to the consumer. Under this scenario you will be responsible for creating, pricing, packaging, mass producing and getting your invention into stores. While undertaking all of this yourself is difficult and risky, you also stand to rake in the lion’s share of the profits. Other ways of commercializing your invention include selling or licensing the patent to someone who will do all the things discussed above. In this arrangement, you will make less money in royalties but also invest less time and risk. No matter what you choose, you should decide on one strategy or another before diving headlong into the patenting process.
3) Do you have a prototype?
Despite one infomercial’s claim that “any idea, big or small, can make millions!”, you cannot actually patent an idea alone. Instead, the US Patent and Trademark office will seek an “identifiable embodiment” of your idea; ie, a prototype or at least the early workings of one. While this might seem like a hurdle, you should actually embrace it! See this as an opportunity to get a head start on actually creating your invention, of leaving your comfort zone and marching boldly toward the day you discover whether your idea is really feasible. This will give you an edge over many first-time inventors and take you one crucial step closer to obtaining patent protection.
4) Are you going for a patent?
Most, if not all, inventors should apply for a (real) patent if they make it to this step. While you do have the option to file a provisional patent, we no longer recommend it. Instead, we recommend doing the full patent preparation from the get go. If and when you have the above three steps under your belt, it is likely worthwhile to move forward with getting a patent.
If the infomercial or shiny pamphlets didn’t mention these things, it’s because they get paid whether patenting your invention helps you or not. For this reason, you should dismiss invention advice that seems exclusively obsessed with investing money immediately. Instead, ask yourself the hard questions above. When you can confidently answer them, you will know with far greater certainty that a patent will move you closer to commercializing your invention.
Need Assistance? Our patent attorneys can help walk you through your patent checklist. 832-683-1527.
About the author of this article:
Eric Corl is the Founder of IdeaBuyer.com is a marketplace for new technology and products that gives inventors the opportunity to showcase their intellectual property to consumer product companies, entrepreneurs, retailers, and manufacturers. You can email him at EricCorl@IdeaBuyer.com.