If you decide that you want to patent your invention, make sure you’re wearing your I’ll-be-patient hat because the entire process includes a number of steps that take a lot of time and energy. From the application drafting phase, through the back and forth with the Patent Office (called “patent prosecution”), into the life of the patent, you’ll do a lot of waiting and have a lot of deadlines to pay attention to.
Secrecy is very important with inventions because inventors have to file a patent application with the Patent Office to prove ownership and priority in that invention. Today in the U.S., the first person to file an application gets priority from the Patent Office, so if someone beats you to the punch with filing, you could lose out on the ability to protect your invention altogether. For this reason, you don’t want to share anything about your invention until you’ve taken all of the necessary steps.
If you need to file something quickly and don’t have time or money to file a full blown utility patent application, a provisional patent application could serve your purpose, though that only holds your place in line, and your priority date, for one year.
If all else fails and you need to tell people about the invention before an application is filed, you should have those parties sign a Confidentiality or Non-Disclosure Agreement. These types of agreements make people promise not to talk about your invention except under whatever restrictions you set. If they break the promise, you could have them on the hook for breach of contract.
Once you’re ready to file the patent application, you and/or your lawyer will need lots of information to give the patent office. Whether you try to go at it alone, or you hire a patent attorney or agent, you still will be intimately involved in the process.
A patent application has several parts, which a lawyer can draft with your input. These parts include:
- A title;
- An abstract;
- A background summary of the field your invention stems from;
- A summary of the invention;
- Drawings (optional, and will probably require a professional patent illustrator);
- A description of any drawings, if you have any; and
It can be expensive, in terms of time and money, to obtain a good, quality patent application. The below data from 2015 is a good gauge for what you’ll pay a patent lawyer, though these numbers have probably gone up some since then.
Once you’ve filed a patent application with the Patent Office, that is only the first step in the process.
Your application will be assigned to a person called a Patent Examiner. This person will have a background in the field of your invention, and their job is to read your application to determine whether you meet all of the patent requirements.
In many cases, they will either reject certain parts of your application or ask for further clarification through a letter called an Office Action. While it can be pretty scary to get one of these Office Actions, they are common and do not ruin your changes of getting a patent.
After a few rounds of this, you may need to make changes to your application to get the Examiner to approve it. You may also need to appeal some of the Examiner’s decisions. This process can take anywhere from six months to three years, on average.
And the end of it all, if you’re successful you’ll get a Notice of Allowance from the Patent Office. This means you’ve done everything you need to do and your patent has received all approvals. This will be the final step in what is likely going to be a long and involved process. All that’ll be left is for you to pay the required fees and correct any drawings that might need to be corrected after the back and forth with the Examiner.
If you hire a lawyer, find out up front if their attorney’s fees include any Office Action responses and how you’ll be billed for that. These things can add up pretty quickly, especially if the lawyer is charging by the hour, which is common.
The patent process can be daunting, and frankly, it is becoming so expensive that many new entrepreneurs and startups have trouble affording it. If you’re committed to your invention, you’ll have to be in it for the long haul.
It could very well be worth it in the end.
Have you gone through the patent application process? If so, please share your tips for surviving the process in the comments!