Having a patent for an idea or product is essential for start-up organizations and entrepreneurs before even considering starting production. Without a patent, someone else could produce a substantially similar product that essentially shuts down production before it can even begin. Just as importantly, individuals and companies must ensure that they have followed proper procedures for patenting to avoid legal conflict later.
A recent report released by Unified Patents states that the projected number of patent litigation cases in 2015 is poised to hit 6,100. This is close to a two-fold increase from the 3,499 cases of patent litigation filed in 2011. Technology and pharmaceutical companies lead the list for the types of companies sued for patent infringement. To avoid a similar fate, inventors should familiarize themselves with the different types of patents available as well as how to apply for one.
A patent indicates that the product or intellectual property is unique and can’t be developed by others. The specific type of patent for an idea to apply for depends on the work submitted and the needs of the inventor. Categories include:
- Utility Patent: This provides protection for the invention of a product or process that is significantly useful to others.
- Design Patent: This describes a patent issued for original ornamental design.
- Plant Patent: A plant patent is available for newly discovered plants capable of asexual reproduction.
- Reissue Patent: The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issues this patent to correct an error with the previous three types of patents.
A registered trademark, unregistered trademark, or copyright patent may also be appropriate in certain situations.
Steps to Take Before Applying for a Patent
Prospective inventors must ensure that they have a new, novel idea that is both useful and commercially viable. The USPTO will deny any patent application that is too similar to an existing product or that has a limited scope of usability. Essentially, the product must provide value to the public in order for it to meet the standards of the USPTO.
The intellectual property also can’t be public knowledge. That means that those responsible for developing it must keep all details secret until after approval of the patent. Lastly, the idea or new product must be adequately developed and include a prototype. This is a scaleable model of the project that demonstrates precisely how it operates.
The Patent Application Process
In addition to protecting inventors from having their design concepts stolen, most manufacturing companies require that a new product have patent protection before agreeing to produce it. To apply for a patent, the designer should first list the type of patent he or she wants to secure. Next, complete the application and include drawings, an abstract, and detailed data outlining what the product will do. Patent applications lacking in details are unlikely to receive approval. Upon receiving notice of approval, inventors should focus on developing a more advanced prototype as well as working with manufacturing companies, licensees, and investors to ensure the new product receives enough attention to be profitable.