"Should I patent my invention?"
Getting a patent is expensive and time-consuming, so don't just start filling out an application as soon as you come up with a bright idea. John Calvert, the administrator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Inventor Assistance Program, offers advice on whether it's truly worth it.
- Short of a getting a patent, legally there's not much you can do to protect an idea that could be easily replicated.
- You can expect to pay about $5,000 to the patent office to secure and maintain the rights to a patent, and another $3,000 to $15,000 for attorney's fees. But the more legwork you can do—from researching similar inventions to making sketches—the less it will cost you. Patent attorneys in cities like D.C. or New York often charge more for the same services as those in places like Alabama or North Dakota. Many will work with you remotely, potentially saving you a few grand.
- Once you've filed, you still won't have any rights to stop someone from making a product that infringes on your idea. At that point you can send the infringers a cease-and-desist letter, but you can't sue them. Once you receive the patent, potentially years down the line, you can take legal action.
- Mark your invention "patent pending" after you've filed. That's fair warning to potential infringers that you can send a cease-and-desist letter.
- Remember that there's no such thing as a worldwide patent. Someone in China can (and probably will) see your idea, rip it off, and sell it there without consequence.
- Still, an approved patent can be extremely valuable, giving you a mini monopoly in the U.S. for 20 years. After that, it expires, and you can't renew.
These days you can do the whole patent process online, internationally. Even applying for a US Provisional patent is not the cheapest way to go, apply for a UK patent and you get a year to pay any fees and your UK Filing Date is good for your Non-Provisional US Patent. Therefore if nobody is interested in a year, just abandon your patent and it has cost you nothing. If someone is interested the royalty advance can pay the fees. A great cheap Amazon ebook which explains all this is DIY Patent Online - you can read some of it free. They also have a website but aren't trying to sell their services, just telling you how to patent without an attorney. You can bet if anybody rubbishes this comment they are an attorney.