The first step in coming up with a truly unique and useful product is to brainstorm ideas. Consider your area of expertise — what are you most interested in and know the most about? In order to invent something from start to finish, you will need to stay within your realm of knowledge. Otherwise, you may have a great idea but no understanding of how to implement it.
Once you’ve spent some time considering all possible options, choose your best idea for an invention. Now you’ll have to spend time considering the details of the project. Draw a few sketches of what you imagine your invention will look like, and then consider some important questions.
Simply having an “idea” is worthless — you need to have proof of when you came up with the invention ideas. Write down everything you can think of that relates to your invention, from what it is and how it works to how you’ll make and market it. This is the first step to patenting your idea and keeping it from being stolen. You’ve probably heard about the “poor man’s patent” — writing your idea down and mailing it to yourself in a sealed envelope so you have dated proof of your invention’s conception. This is unreliable and unlikely to hold up in court. Write your idea down in an inventor’s journal and have it signed by a witness. This journal will become your bible throughout the patent process. An inventor’s journal can by any bound notebook whose pages are numbered consecutively and can’t be removed or reinserted. You can find specially designed inventor’s journals at bookstores (try Nolo Pressor the Book Factoryto start), or you can save money and purchase a generic notebook anywhere they’re sold, such as the grocery store, office supply store, stationary store, etc. Just make sure it meets the requirements above.
You will need to research your idea from a legal and business standpoint. Before you file a patent, you should:
A prototype is a model of your invention that puts into practice all of the things you have written in your inventor’s journal. This will demonstrate the design of your invention when you present it to potential lenders and licensees. Do not file a patent before you have made a prototype. You will almost always discover a flaw in your original design or think of a new feature you would like to add. If you patent your idea before you work out these kinks, it will be too late to include them in the patent and you will risk losing the patent rights of the new design to someone else.
Here are some general rules of thumb when prototyping your invention:
Now that you have all of the kinks worked out of your design, it’s finally time to file a patent. There are two main patents you will have to choose from: a utility patent (for new processes or machines) or a design patent (for manufacturing new, nonobvious ornamental designs). You can write the patent and fill out the application yourself, but do not file it yourself until you have had a skilled patent professional look it over first. If the invention is really valuable, someone will infringe on it. If you do not have a strong patent written by a patent attorney or agent, you will be pulling your hair out later when a competitor finds a loophole that allows them to copy your idea. It’s best to get the legal help now to avoid any legal problems in the future.
When searching for a patent attorney or agent, remember one thing: If you see them advertised on TV, run away! Once you are far, far away, follow these steps to choosing the best patent professional:
With your patent and prototype in hand, you are on the road to success! The next step is making a presentation that completely covers the bases of your invention. You can use this to show to both potential manufacturers and buyers, although you may create slightly different versions of your presentation for each purpose.
Now it’s time to figure out how you’re going to bring your product to market. Create a business plan: How will you get money? Where will you manufacture the product? How will you sell it? Now is a good time to decide if you will manufacture and sell the product yourself, or license it for sale through another company. When you license your product you will probably only receive two percent to five percent in royalty fees. This often scares away inventors who feel they deserve more. But consider the upside: You will not have the financial burden associated with maintaining a business. This could end up making you more money in the long run.
Following these five steps will ensure an easy road to patenting your invention. Just remember that an easy road doesn’t necessarily mean a short one. From the time you conceive your idea to the time you see your product on the shelf is a very long process. Most inventions take years to come to fruition. Have patience and follow due diligence in your steps to patenting your invention and your years of hard work will finally pay off.
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