Explore the critical role of patents in safeguarding a company’s innovations. Learn how this legal protection operates, what qualifies for patenting, and the strategic considerations necessary for securing and leveraging patents effectively.

What is Patent?

In the initial phases of a company’s development, a substantial portion of its value often arises from its intellectual property, making protection crucial. A patent is a legal document that grants exclusive rights to the owner of an invention for a specified period, typically 20 years. This exclusivity empowers the inventor with control over how the invention is made, used, and sold. Obtaining a patent involves a complex and time-consuming process, sometimes taking years. To secure a patent, the inventor must disclose the details of the invention in a formal application, emphasizing its novelty, non-obviousness, and industrial applicability. Once granted, a patent provides a legal foundation for safeguarding intellectual property. This protection can be leveraged for potential profits through licensing or by independently manufacturing and selling the patented invention. Patents are commonly issued for various innovations, ranging from products and processes to machines and improvements in existing technologies.


What Qualifies and What Doesn’t

Patents are subject to jurisdiction-specific regulations, with each jurisdiction having its own criteria for patent eligibility. Typically, an invention can be patented if it is novel, technical, and not obvious to someone skilled in the relevant field. Seeking guidance from a patent attorney is advisable during the application process.

On the flip side, certain things cannot be patented. Business methods, lacking technical elements, generally fall outside patentability. Abstract software concepts may not qualify, but practical applications often do. Inventions already in the public domain are ineligible for patenting, underscoring the importance of maintaining confidentiality through non-disclosure agreements before filing a patent application. Once a provisional patent application is filed, information can be disclosed in the patent application.


Applying for Patents

Navigating the intricate process of patent applications is essential for startup founders. The foundation lies in three pillars: first, ensuring your invention is truly novel by conducting a comprehensive internet search; second, maintaining confidentiality until the optimal protection method is determined, as public disclosure may impact your patent application; and third, crafting a robust business plan to align the protection strategy with profitability. For a strategic approach, consider national applications for specific countries, regional applications for broader coverage in regions like Europe, or international applications (PCT) to test the market globally before committing to specific regions. This strategic delay in costs allows you to gauge market potential, ensuring that you invest in patent protection only where it truly matters, aligning your invention with both success and fiscal prudence.

Patent application

Patent Application Fees

The fees associated with patent applications vary widely, ranging from $75 for “micro-entities” to $10,000 for specific submissions. Additionally, there are other expenses to consider, such as patent search fees, research fees, examination fees, and post-allowance fees. The USPTO’s list of fees can be found here. It’s also essential to factor in attorney fees, which can quickly escalate to tens of thousands of dollars or more.

For smaller entities, like single-member corporations or small teams, filing fees may be around $300. However, when incorporating the aforementioned additional costs, the total expenses could exceed $5,000. Predicting exact costs is challenging, so it is advisable to consult with individuals experienced in patenting or speak with a patent attorney for a more accurate estimate. Given these associated expenses, entrepreneurs may question the feasibility of investing in such a potentially costly process.

Once the examiner deems your application satisfactory, you will receive a Notice of Allowance from the USPTO. Subsequently, you must pay an issue fee, and possibly a publication fee, to complete the patent issuance process. The overall cost of a patent application is divided between filing fees and potential patent attorney fees. While it’s not mandatory to work with a patent attorney, their involvement can increase the likelihood of a successful application. Additionally, inventors must be aware of and fulfill renewal fees for granted patents.

Patents are like protective shields for your ideas, stopping others from copying and benefiting from them. They’re given to new inventions, making sure creators can sell their creations without others copying them. Applying for a patent early is key to avoiding problems, keeping your business safe, making future sales easier, and even earning money by letting others use your invention through licensing.

So, act now! If you’re considering applying for a patent, it’s crucial to seek the assistance of professionals to avoid wasting time and unnecessary complications.