3 Things Every Inventor Should Know Before Applying for a Patent
Have you ever had an idea for an invention? Getting the patent for Covermade was one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve ever experienced! Here are three things that I believe are very helpful to know if you have an idea for an invention yourself, or if you are just curious about the process of getting a patent.
1) An idea cannot be patented for simply being “new” or “different”. An invention must be both “novel” and “non-obvious”.
An idea must be non-obvious and novel to earn a patent. This is a difficult thing to understand at first. Many people (including myself in the beginning) think that because they have never seen their idea anywhere and there is “nothing like it”, that it will likely be patentable. Unfortunately it is not that simple.
A patent examiner will study your application and published patents carefully to make sure your idea is both non-obvious and novel. So, what do novelty and non-obviousness mean, anyway?
A patent examiner will study other patented relevant inventions (referred to as “prior art”). Even if the other patents look literally nothing like your idea, your invention can be rejected when the patent examiner combines elements of multiple patents. Let me explain.
An examiner might say, “if you take invention A from 1918, invention B from 1973, invention C from 1997, and invention D from 2003 and combine small elements of each, someone ‘skilled in the art’ could come up with your idea”. Therefore your invention can be deemed obvious, and your patent rejected.
This can be quite disheartening for inventors, because it’s not likely that you sat around studying old patents trying to combine them in such a way. Most likely, you just came up with an idea that you are excited about! However, a patent examiner will often site “obviousness” as reason for rejection.
To be novel, an invention cannot:
- be known in any other part of the world anytime before you came up with the idea
- be previously described in any article published anywhere in the world
- have been patented anywhere else in the world
2) What to expect when doing an initial patent search or “prior art” search
The first thing a patent attorney will do is a “prior art” patent search. He or she will search the USPTO database and find every existing patent that could conflict with your invention. Sometimes at this point, you will learn you don’t have chance at a patent because another patent found in the prior art prohibits your idea from being patentable.
While there a lot of things in the process of being an inventor you can do yourself (and I am all for that!) – a patent attorney should always do the patent search. Some inventors try to search the database themselves, which is really not something you want to try to do. Patent attorneys are trained to know exactly how to do a search and what to look for. You definitely don’t want the patent search to be done incorrectly, and then put time and money into an application only to learn that an undiscovered patent excluded you from getting a patent in the first place.
As far as prior art searches go, note there will likely be a lot of patents related to your invention in the search results. This is to be expected, so don’t be surprised. Remember, just because you think your idea is different or you’ve “never seen anything like it” doesn’t mean that no inventor before you ever thought in the same direction.
3) Inventors can write their own patent. BUT…
If you’ve ever read a patent, they may be in English, yet somehow they still sound like another language! Despite their complexity, I believe inventors should write their own patent because it will be beneficial in more ways than one:
- It will save thousands in billable attorney hours. (Patent attorneys typically cost $300-500/hour!)
- You will learn so much about patents from having to actually write and understand your patent and the prior art cited in your patent
Writing your patent and saving thousands in the process is totally doable, if you are willing to really dive in and do some work. A patent attorney should always proofread and edit everything, but most importantly, your patent attorney must write the claims. This is the most important part of a patent.
To write my patent application myself these three things were key:
- I found an experienced attorney who coached me through writing much of the patent myself. She was willing to walk me through my drafts and edits. This went on for months until we were ready to submit.
- I took out books on patenting from the local library, and read and studied them, because there were things I had to learn before I could understand the subject matter when talking to my attorney.
- I studied the language, composition, and drawings in dozens of patents found in the prior art until I understood them.
If you made it this far, thank you for reading ?
I plan to share more of my experiences, here on the blog so stay tuned! I have had many people who have an idea for an invention write in to the site asking me about patents and what steps to take. When I was first getting started with the process, I had a LOT of questions, and one of the things that helped me most was reading about other inventors and the process they went through. I hope this information is helpful and plan to share more!
All the best,