Many people have new, potentially-valuable ideas. And most of those ideas remain just ideas.
Many inventors find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Either risk the theft of the idea (as well as its patentability, but that’s another topic) by disclosing it without any legal protection, or hire a patent attorney at $400/hour.
Fortunately, there is a middle road. Skilled patent attorneys are worth their rates, but only when they are doing what they specialize in. We might liken a patent attorney to a neurosurgeon in a hospital. You don’t want to skimp on your neurosurgeon, for obvious reasons. But neither do you want to pay for your neurosurgeon to be handling all of the pre- and postoperative procedures. A competent nurse can handle these just as capably, and for a fraction of the cost.
For the actual prosecution of a patent for valuable intellectual property, patent attorneys are operating within their niche. But there are several vital steps between having an idea and prosecuting a patent, none of which require a patent attorney.
When I was 16, in high school chemistry class, I learned about how hydrogen could be extracted from water using hydrolysis. Around the same time, I also learned that an internal combustion engine could be fueled by hydrogen. My immediate thought was, “Wow, you could just use the car’s alternator to provide current to extract hydrogen from water, and fuel the engine with this hydrogen. The car would run on water!” Fortunately, my chemistry teacher was happy to explain to me, free of charge, why this wouldn’t work quite like I was imagining. A patent attorney could have explained the same thing. But the consultation would have likely run $250 – $500.
Many great ideas are thought up by people without much technical background. You don’t need to be an engineer to notice a problem and think of a creative, novel solution. But without technical expertise, an inventor may lack important pieces of the conceptual puzzle. Inventors may be unaware of existing art that may complement or enhance their own inventions. (“Art” is a word used in the patent world to refer to evidence of an idea, such as a physical item, a drawing, a description, etc.)
It is important to remember that a patent’s only real value is that it grants the holder the right to exclude others from making or using something. If everyone is clamoring to make that thing, then this right to exclude is valuable. If no one is interested in making it, then it is worthless. Many inventors pursue a patent with the mistaken notion that this is the end goal. The end goal is to make money. A patent is an expensive investment that may pay off handsomely, but only if the idea can be put into a form with real commercial value. By developing a novel idea into a useful form, an inventor can demonstrate the idea’s value to interested parties.
Understanding Prior Art
After an initial consultation, a patent attorney’s first service is to provide a patentability opinion based on the results of a patent search. Patent attorneys commonly outsource patent searches to third parties. Once again, it’s a task that requires proficiency and expertise, but doesn’t require a patent attorney.
Provisional Patent Application
Since provisional patent applications were introduced in 1994, they’ve made it far easier to independent inventors to market their ideas. Simply put, a provisional patent application gives an inventor a means to establish that he invented something without filing a full utility patent. The inventor must thoroughly describe his invention in a provisional patent application. From the date the application is filed, the invention has patent pending status, and the inventor has one year to file a full utility patent. During this one-year period, the inventor may:
- Research the commercial value of the invention
- Market the invention to potential licencees or investors
- Research prior art to determine of a full utility patent is possible
- Prepare a utility patent application for the invention
The inventor doesn’t need to worry about the idea being stolen (if it is patentable), since he can apply for a utility patent during this one-year period which is valid from the date of his original provisional patent application. If he does obtain a full utility patent, he can then use this to exclude others from making or using his invention. If it turns out that the idea is not commercially viable or is not patentable, then the inventor can simply do nothing, and allow the provisional application to expire. The inventor’s investment in a provisional application was very small in comparison to the cost of drafting a filing a utility patent application.
The requirements for provisional patent applications are far less rigorous than for utility patent applications. Some ‘kits’ are even available online to help inventors file their own provisional patent applications. It is possible to file a provisional patent application without significant expertise in the intellectual property field, but this is not always advisable. A utility patent application that claims the priority of a provisional patent application cannot add any new material. Thus, a weak provisional patent application will also result in a weak utility patent – a very costly error in the case of a valuable invention.
One option is to hire a patent attorney to prepare and file a provisional patent application. He will most likely do a great job, and charge $2,500 to $3,000. Another option is to hire a technician with extensive experience in intellectual property to prepare and file a provisional patent application. He will likely do just as good a job for a fraction of the cost.
Do you need help obtaining protection for your idea?
I have extensive experience in all of the above described areas (as well as with utility patent preparation, filing and prosecution.)
Contact Bowen Technical
+1.530.826.4872 (USA) or +52.677.879.0565 (Mexico)