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How to Patent an Idea

How to Patent an Idea

Once you come up with an idea, you’re going to want to talk about it with your family, friends, co-workers, and potential partners or investors. During this part of the invention process, when discussing confidential information with others, you will want the peace of mind to do so. This can be accomplished with a patent.

Patents Overview

If you’re new to patents, here are the definitions you should know:

(Feel free to bookmark our Invention Glossary for future reference)


A patent is an intellectual property right granted by the government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issues several different types of patent documents offering different kinds of protection and covering different types of subject matter, including a utility patent, and a design patent, to be discussed below.

Provisional Patent

A provisional patent application (PPA) is a patent application that can be used by a patent applicant to secure a filing date while avoiding the costs associated with the filing and prosecution of a non-provisional patent application. More specifically, if a non-provisional application is filed within one year from the filing date of a PPA, the non-provisional application may claim the benefit of the filing date of the PPA.

Because a PPA is not examined, an applicant can also avoid the costs typically associated with non-provisional patent prosecution (certain attorney's fees, for example) for a year while determining whether his/her invention is commercially viable. Further, because a PPA is not made public unless its application number is noted in a later-published application or patent, the failure by an applicant to file a non-provisional application based on his/her PPA will not lead to public disclosure of his/her invention.

Types of Patents: Utility

A utility patent is issued for the invention of a new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or a new and useful improvement thereof. This type of patent generally permits its owner to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention for a period of up to twenty years from the date of patent application filing, subject to the payment of maintenance fees. Approximately 90% of the patent documents issued by the USPTO in recent years have been utility patents, also referred to as "patents for invention".

Types of Patents: Design

A design patent is issued for a new, original, and ornamental design embodied in or applied to an article of manufacture. It permits its owner to exclude others from making, using, or selling the design for a period of fourteen years from the date of patent grant. Design patents are not subject to the payment of maintenance fees. Please note that the fourteen-year term of a design patent is subject to change in the near future.

How Much Does a Patent Cost?

Many inventors may be on a limited budget or may want to explore the marketability of their ideas and have a level of protection when discussing the details. An option may be to file a provisional patent application to start.

Filing fees are available on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office fee schedule. In addition to these fees, you may hire an intellectual property attorney or agent which may charge by the hour for filing. Some inventors may choose to file on their own and need to follow strict guidelines to be accepted.

Whether you decide to manufacture or license your invention, protecting your ideas could be important for you and your intellectual property. Having the security of knowing that your idea is claimed can give you the peace of mind to move forward. Once your patent is issued, it is your responsibility to protect your intellectual property from infringement and enforce your rights. Some inventors also choose to invent and receive a patent to simply hang on their wall.

First Steps Toward Your Patent

Below are ways to protect your idea and also work towards receiving an issued patent.

  1. If you decide to file any form of intellectual property, it is suggested to conduct a simple patent search first. Use descriptive words in the search box and then click on images and see what's similar to your that comes up in the search and keep a list of them.
  2. I recommend taking your list and having a patent attorney or agent compare what you found to what you are proposing. They will provide a patentability opinion which will give you a good idea if you were able to receive a patent or not. Remember-- it's only an opinion. 
  3. If your idea is design-based (visually-focused or ornamental), you would consider a design patent, which you can file right after your patent search. If it's based on functionality (utility or process-based), then you may consider a less expensive approach by filing a provisional patent application. This gives you the right for one year to say your idea is patent pending and explore the marketability of your idea without asking companies to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). Before the year expires you may consider filing a utility patent, otherwise known as a non-provisional patent. This type of patent would include claims and then goes in line to be examined by the USPTO.
  4. I always suggest hiring a patent attorney or agent to file your patent, especially if you are looking to license your invention. It should be done correctly by an expert.

I can help you navigate through working with patent and trademark lawyers and agents and help you make decisions based on my experience. If you have any questions, you can schedule a free 10 minute call!