As a business coach, we get asked pretty regularly about protecting ideas and what processes and costs are associated with doing so. While patenting can be a complex process, there are a few issues one should consider before moving in that direction:
Is there a market? – Inventors get so wrapped up in their invention sometimes they fail to consider that there may not be anyone out there willing to buy it. You need to determine if there are enough people in the market that have similar passions about your product. Also, once you have done the simple math on what the invention might cost to produce, ask yourself if the target market can afford your product. If there isn’t a sizeable market or enough profit to justify the product, then patenting should probably not be one of the top things on your list.
Is patenting the right way to protect your idea? – So, if there is passion and profit in your target market you may want to continue your quest to protect your idea before hitting the market. There are ways other than patenting to protect an idea. Copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets are also popular IP protection methods. Determine which one makes the most sense and find a professional to lead you through the process.
How much time and money do you have? – Patents are time consuming and sometimes, very expensive. It is not unusual to file a patent and not hear anything back from the US Patent and Trade Office (US PTO) for 18-24 months. That initial contact is normally just the beginning of the process. You may have to navigate a series of dialogues between you, your lawyer and a US PTO examiner. Each of the steps of the patent process has an associated cost. Using a patent attorney to get through these steps is preferable but they do come at a price.
Can you enforce the patent? – A patent can be a powerful tool that brings great reward and value to your business. However, there are no “patent police” so it is up to you to defend you product in the marketplace. Once you release your patented product, all the information you filed regarding the make-up and functionality of the item is readily available on the US PTO database. If someone chooses to knock-off your product, you have to find out about it first, then you need to have the resources to protect your patent in a court of law. Many small business owners find this challenging.
These are just a few issues you need to consider when protecting an idea. For other strategies or to speak with an SBDC counselor regarding this topic or any other business challenges, contact your local office or call 803-777-1020.