By: Mark Malek
When an inventor embarks down the path of coming up with something new, there was generally a reason for it – to make money. Sure, many people invent for the sake of inventing, i.e., to see what can be the next big thing. Most inventors, however have a desire to make money off their inventions.
With that in mind, it is very tough to make money off of your invention without patent protection. Patent protection provides you with the protectable right. In other words, the U.S. Patent Office will grant a patent for an invention that has been is demonstrated as being new, novel, and not obvious. In exchange for the protection, the inventor must tell the world, in the form of a patent application that is eventually published, everything that they need to know in order to make the invention. The duration of a U.S. Patent is 20 years from the date of filing. This is the type of protection that is granted when filing the most common type of patent – the utility patent application. A good way to get started on that process is by filing a provisional patent application. Please see this post for a good article on the benefits of filing a provisional patent application.
The patent right provides for the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, or even offering to sell the invention that is defined in the claims of the patent. Suppose, for example, that you have invented something and try to sell it or offer it for sale without patent protection. Also suppose that you have a fantastic idea that has caught the attention of a major technology company. After disclosing your invention to this major technology company, you offer it for sale to them. The company initially tells you that they may be interested, but will get back to you. Months pass and you do not hear anything from them. You call them back, but they tell you that they are still thinking about it. One day you are in the store and you see your invention on the shelf in a box that bears the name of the major technology company that you disclosed your invention to! Now you are ticked off and you go marching to an attorney’s office to sue them.
Guess what the first thing that the attorney is going to want to see? Your patent. You try to explain to the attorney that you don’t have a patent but you want to sue the big technology company. This is the point where you hear exactly what you didn’t want to hear – YOU HAVE NO PROTECTABLE RIGHTS! Without a patent, you have no right to exclude anyone from making, using, selling or offering to sell your invention. Therefore, there is no cause of action.
Please understand that this is a very simplified way of trying to let you know that a patent is a really good way to protect your invention, and from stopping others from “stealing” your invention. There is so much more that goes into enforcement of your rights as an inventor, but you can’t use any of the benefits of the U.S. Patent system without first having a patent. If you simply must disclose your invention to someone without having a patent application in place, then at the very least, get them to sign a non-disclosure agreement before you make such a disclosure.
In the next article, I will review some of the ways that you can possibly make money on your invention…provided that there is a patent (or at least a patent application) in place. For more information on how to go about protecting your invention, please feel free to contact me. You can also follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook for even more information.