Entrepreneurs: 10 Things You Should Know About Patents

Once inspiration hits an inventor or entrepreneur, the race is on to patent the idea, put together a prototype, start manufacturing, and get it out on the market before somebody else does. The first component of the aforementioned process of getting to market, obtaining a patent, is a subject that generates a lot of confusion, especially for those new to the world of patenting.

Without a patent, there is always the risk of a competitor stealing an original idea, so obtaining intellectual property protection is crucial. With that in mind, here are 10 key things that any entrepreneur or inventor needs to know about patents before launching a new product.

1. The Definition of A Patent

According to Investopedia, an investment education website, a patent is "government license that gives the holder exclusive rights to a process, design or new invention for a designated period of time." By establishing a patent, the patent holder is protected from other entities infringing upon their intellectual property.

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Hypothetically, without a patent, a new invention could be reverse engineered, replicated, and resold by another company with more resources, effectively pushing the original inventor out of the marketplace.

2. You Can’t Patent an "Idea"

As great as an idea may be, in order to apply for a patent, there are certain requirements that need to be met as it relates to the development of the idea itself.

As stated on a recent post on Entrepreneurship Life, "a general plan or notion without some identifiable embodiment cannot be protect [sic] as Intellectual Property (IP) by the Intellectual Property Office."

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In essence, though the requirements vary from country to country, patent authorities require that in order to be patented, ideas should be structured as more of a tangible asset or design, either through the development of a prototype or though detailed drawings and descriptions.

3. Patents Are Country-Sensitive

There are multiple different patent authorities, and no single governing body can issue patents that are enforced worldwide. For example, patents in the United States are issued by the United States Patent & Trade Office while patents in the United Kingdom are handled by the Intellectual Property Office.

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Through the Patent Cooperation Treaty, one can initiate the patent filing process with roughly 145 participating nations, although eventually there are additional costs and processes required that one must consider to finalize the desired patents.

4. There are Multiple Types of Patents

When applying for a patent, entrepreneurs and inventors must note what type of patent they are applying for. In the US, there are three different classifications of patents, known as utility patents, design patents and plant patents.

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In China, there are two types of patents, invention patents and utility model patents. Understanding the pros and cons of different patent options is important as explained by an article in Inovia.

5. The First To File A Patent Typically Wins

Since the passing of the America Invents Act, virtually every country in the world now works on a first-to-file system for patents, as opposed to a first-to-invent model. What this means is that in the event of multiple applicants filing for the same patent, the patent will go to whoever filed the application first.

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U.C. Berkeley vs. MIT is an on-going, epic patent battle over a ground-breaking DNA-editing technology involving a first-to-file vs. first-to-invent issue.

6. Patents Can Take a Long Time To Be Granted

Attempting to obtain a patent is not a good activity for those who lack patience. Though timelines vary from entity to entity, according to one source, "the average time it takes to obtain a patent from the (US) patent office at this time is about 32 months or a little under 3 years."

Don’t hold your breath.

7. Patents Have To Be Globally Unique

Prior to incurring the expense and dedicating the time required to apply for a patent, it is highly advisable to conduct a worldwide search for similar patents, to ensure that there is not a similar product or concept already with a patent or a patent pending. The USPTO alone has issued over 8 million patents since its inception.

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As suggested by Innovate Design, the patent search must go beyond just a single country because "in order to be patentable, an idea has to be globally unique, which is why this search has to be worldwide."

8. Patents Cost Money To Apply For

Before filing a patent application, inventors should consider the litany of costs associated with the process. Aside from just the application fee itself, there are associated services to be considered, ranging from the cost of a professional worldwide patent search and opinion, to attorney fees, to assistance with design drawings or prototype manufacturing, and more.

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I.P. Watchdog estimates that the cost of obtaining a patent in the United States can easily add up to ten thousand dollars or more, adding "how much you will spend on a patent application also depends upon what it is that you want to do with the patent and whether there are realistic market opportunities."

9. Patent Legislation Constantly Changes

Due to the pace at which technology and innovation takes place in today’s business, guidelines and laws are constantly changing. Entrepreneurs and inventors should keep abreast of recent changes with international bodies such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

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Additional, individual countries routinely draft new legislation that involves patent law, such as the proposed Innovation Act that is under consideration in the United States.

10. Beware of Patent Trolls

Patent Trolls are individuals or entities who use patent laws to make generally frivolous claims about patent infringement, typically with the goal of extracting a settlement from a defendant who would prefer not to incur the costs and time required to fight the claim.

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Apple and ProView Technologies had an infamous patent dispute in 2012 at which time the publication Uproxx called out both parties on their rather "trollish" behavior with respect to patents.