In the United States, there are four ways to get protection for your intellectual property. They are patent protection, trademark protection, copyright protection, and trade secrets protection. The first patent law in American was passed in 1790, and since then the United States has been known as a country that both encourages and protects creative development in every area of life.
If you’ve created or innovated something and want patent protection, there are some steps to go through to make sure you’re covered. Intellectual property practice does vary a bit by state, and getting a patent attorney is always a smart move, but here’s what you need to know about the basics of patent protection.
- Keep records of everything you’re working on. If you’re even thinking about patent protection, you’ll want to make sure that every step of your invention is recorded, including all modifications you make and how you came up with all the ideas. If you’ve built any trial models or conducted any trial runs, be sure to keep a record of these, too, signed and dated. To be extra careful, have a couple witnesses sign, too.
- Your invention has to actually qualify to get patent protection. This means it has to be new, you have to be able to show how it works, and it has to have some demonstrable value. It also has to be something that’s not considered “obvious.” There must be some substantial way in which your invention is different from other similar products. You also cannot try to sell it or make it publically known before you apply for a patent.
- Getting patent protection can cost a lot. You should know this going in, but getting a patent lawyer can actually decrease your costs in the long run. Patent attorneys can advise you on whether your invention is likely to be cost-effective and help you keep patent research as inexpensive as possible. Having a patent attorney along also helps make sure you won’t get bogged down in the patent process.
- You’ll need to do a very careful patent search. It’s up to you to make sure you aren’t reinventing the wheel. You’ll need to look through all the previous developments in the field you’re working in, looking at both United States patent protection and also foreign patents. If and when you find something similar to your invention, you’ll need to then show how yours is different or better.
- Finally, you’ll file for patent protection with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. You’re allowed to start with a provisional application, and this protects your invention while the patent process continues. At this point, you can also sell it and are allowed to put “patent pending” status on your item. Then you’ll work on a regular patent application, and having an expert in intellectual property practices with you at this point can really speed up the patent process and ensure you’re doing everything the right way the first time.
Getting patent protection for that thing you’ve worked so hard on will not only preserve your property rights, but also give you peace of mind and put you in a position to make money off your hard work.