You have been sitting in your lab/garage/room/parents’ basement for the last few months or years creating something new. Something worth PATENTING. At least you think so.
So, what CAN you “patent?”
Legally, any person who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent, subject to the conditions and requirements of the law. Dang, that is not the easiest read, is it?
Without worrying about the “conditions and requirements of the law,” it’s something that is significantly new and different from other things out there (novel) that solves some sort of problem or need in society (useful). I could spend a lot of time trying to describe this to you like I did with trademarks and copyrights. However, if you have this question…it’s probably best to speak with an attorney who specializes in this.
Let’s say that attorney tells you that you’re in luck. Your widget falls within the parameters of what is patentable. You fork over the dough, apply for your patent and then…you wait.
Patents take a long time to issue. It takes at least 18 months for a patent application to even be published for the world to see. That is not the same as issued (i.e. approved as a registered patent). It takes longer to get issued.
So, while you are waiting for your patent to go through the system, you start manufacturing your product or using your innovation and send it out into the world because your purpose in thinking up your widget was to make money off of it.
Can you do that? Yes! Holding a patent DOES NOT give you a right to manufacture, use, or sell your widget. Holding a patent DOES give you the right to stop others from manufacturing, using, or selling your widget.
You can start making money off of it! Yes!
BUT there’s a risk. If it’s something that your competitor could make themselves, then as soon as it’s out in the world, they could start reverse engineering your widget and selling it themselves.
So, how do you put people on notice that you have applied for a patent?
You can etch, type, write, or stamp your product with these magic words: “Patent Pending” until your patent issues (if it does). At that point, you can put the Patent Number.
Does this stop them from reverse engineering your product and selling it? No, not really. But let’s assume that most people aren’t out there to screw you over and steal your ideas and those most people will see your “patent pending” stamp and will be deterred from using your widget without the right to do so.
And the other people? Well, that’s where your lawyer can be helpful.
Do you always want to put people on notice that you’ve applied for a patent? No, it’s dependent on your industry and the ability of people to easily reverse engineer your invention, to name a few.
Patents are complicated and a commitment. I hope this helps shed light on a small sliver of the patent process. A patent should be a part of a strategy and its use should be as well. An attorney can help you with that. Also, just know that you can get a patent “cheaply” but when you invest more, you are paying for strategy.