I was talking to Les Prichard, patent attorney with Culverstons Intellectual Property, the other day. This probably isn’t the question. The question is probably, how well prepared are you to file a patent?
There are two fundamental questions you need to ask yourself before you file a patent:
Is the product novel*?
How am I going to make money from this novel product?
The product must be novel. So, the first thing to do is check if the product is likely to be patentable. Some research at this point is essential. Basic searches can be done using free databases such as Google Patents or Espacenet. A patent attorney can help you with further investigations.
You need to know the detail of the product. An idea or concept isn’t enough. The patent application needs to describe the product in sufficient detail that a skilled person could replicate the invention and make it work. A patent attorney can help you with that detail.
Understanding product details isn’t enough, either. Patents cost money so you must have a clear plan to commercialise the product. There are three basic ways to make money from a patent:
Manufacture and sell the product yourself and use the patent to keep your competitors at bay.
License the patent to another party who will manufacture and sell the product and pay you a royalty.
Sell the patent to another party and walk away.
It might be tempting to share your idea to find out more about the commercial reality of the potential market. Remember once you have told someone about the product you can’t patent it. You may think about using a non-disclosure agreement but these don’t provide ultimate protection. Not every company will be happy to sign a NDA because they may be working on something similar themselves.
Filing a patent application is no guarantee of a granted patent. Patent-ability is a point of view. However, once you have filed a patent, because it is a first-to-file system, no-one can beat you to it. Once you have filed a patent application the clock starts ticking. You need to push hard and early to make sure you achieve a positive commercial outcome.
To finish here are some numbers:
A product is protected for 20 years from filing provided annual renewal fees are paid to keep it in force.
Once filed you have 12 months before the patent is published to refine the application and sort out the commercial route to your marketplace.
You can file the patent in any other country within that same 12 months and still be protected.
It can take anywhere between 4 and 15 years from filing a patent to getting a patent granted.
Only 1 in 20 applications filed without the help of an intellectual property professional are successfully granted. So it makes sense to seek the advice of a patent attorney before applying for a patent.
*we’ll discuss product patents here and leave other inventions for another post.