Coming up with a brilliant invention can be exciting. Among the most important steps you'll want to take right away is applying for a patent. A patent will protect your invention and keep others from making the same thing and profiting from it. You'll want to start the process early because if someone else has created something similar, the decision on who gets the patent might be based on who created it first or applied first.
You'll want to keep extensive notes on the process of creating your invention, including all e-mail messages, records of meetings and information about who helped you. All of this will help establish a timeline of when you created the idea in case someone challenges your patent. It is important to keep all this information confidential. Do not publish any papers about your invention or even write an abstract about your invention for a meeting. The United States Patent and Trademark Office views publication of any kind as grounds for denying your patent application.
Talk to an Attorney
Meet with an attorney about your patent application. The USPTO doesn't require that you use an attorney to file your application; thus, you can file one yourself. However, you should talk to an attorney to find out if you would benefit from having an attorney's help. The USPTO recommends hiring an attorney because the process can be complicated and you need to word information on your application in a particular manner to get through the patent examination process.
Search for Prior Art
You'll need to spend time searching for prior art to see if your invention is patentable. This means you need to find out if anyone else has already created something similar. A simple Internet search is a good place to start. However, you'll also want to search the USPTO's website. The USPTO offers a seven-step strategy to help you with this process. The steps involve properly classifying your invention and brainstorming relevant keywords, accessing the USPTO's full text of patents and patent applications, and reviewing references from similar patents to see if these contain prior art.
File With the USPTO
Use the USPTO's Electronic Filing System to file your application for a patent online. You'll need to upload any relevant sketches or drawings of your invention. Your application will need to include a description of the invention, a list of co-inventors if applicable, cross references to related applications, all steps involved in making and using the invention, all claims regarding the scope of the invention that should be patented and payment of relevant fees. The USPTO's website provides detailed information about everything that should be included in your application.
Once you or your attorney have filed the patent application, your work isn't done. You'll need to promptly respond to any questions the patent examiner sends you or any amendments that are requested. In order to maintain your patent after it's granted, you'll also need to pay maintenance fees to the USPTO 3.5, 7.5 and 11.5 years after your patent is granted.