As any inventor who’s gone through the patent process knows, filing a patent is almost always a complex, time-consuming process—even if your invention is a fairly simple one.
Now, many inventors and even small companies that create new products forgo the patent process, usually because they think it will take up too much time, money, or both. Choosing to file or not to file is a decision to consider carefully, as not filing for a patent means you won’t have legal protection should someone copy your idea. However, there are cases when not filing can make sense.
This post, however, is for those inventors and companies that do intend to file patents for their ideas. While in many cases, it’s advisable to hire a patent attorney to help with the patent process, there are things you can do in order to cut down on legal expenses and make the process as efficient as possible.
- Educate yourself on intellectual property law. There are many online resources, including full courses, on intellectual property law that can help you gain a broad view of how intellectual property works. This can be of great value in helping you decide whether and when to hire an attorney. In addition, knowing something about the law will help you hire the best, most competent attorney for your needs, and avoid any potential scams (which do, unfortunately, exist).
- Ask yourself key questions. The first question, which presumably you’ve already answered is “Do I need a patent?” Other questions you’ll want to ask yourself, however, include things like:
- Decide what and how much you want to do yourself. Even if you decide you don’t want to risk going through the entire patent process on your own, there’s probably work you can do on your own to save on legal fees. For example, one of the earliest steps in the process is deciding whether or not you have a protectable invention, which means that it’s something new and that it fits into one of the categories created by the Patent and Trademark Office.
- Consider filing a provisional patent application yourself and saving your attorney fees for later, if you decide to file the binding, non-provisional application. Many inventors decide to file a provisional application on their own. The provisional application is a kind of initial step in the patent process—what it does is protect your invention while you finish fine-tuning the details. A provisional application expires in 12 months, so unless you file a non-provisional application within that time period, your patent will be considered abandoned.
- If you created your product as an individual, make sure your attorney is knowledgeable about working with independent inventors. Some attorneys are more familiar working with companies than individuals, so make sure you ask your attorney about this before hiring him or her. You’ll want to see if they are willing to go about the process in a way that’s acceptable to you, whether that means doing the entire patent from start to finish, or just coming in at the end to give your application a detailed review.
Am I willing to do the research required to file an application myself?
Do I have the time to devote to this research? Is there a deadline or timeline I must adhere to?
If I file myself, will I feel confident that I can defend my patent in a court of law?
Answer honestly—if you are ready to approach the patent process as a kind of project, then you’re probably ready to dive in and try to file yourself. If, however, you think your peace of mind would suffer if you do everything without the help of a legal professional—if, for example, you think your invention has great commercial value that others might try to infringe upon—you should most likely at least set up a consultation with a registered patent attorney.
You may also be able to do the patent search on your own, although there are professional patent searchers that you can hire if you choose.
There’s no set format for a provisional application, which makes it easier to file on your own. This is a great choice for individuals working on products that may not have high commercial value.
The non-provisional application is harder to file on one’s own and is the application that most inventors tend to hire a patent attorney for.
While we at Pivot don’t work on the patent process, we do help with just about everything else, from new product concept and design to product manufacturing. If you’ve got a great idea you’d like to pursue, contact Pivot today!