Checklist for Getting a Patent

By Stephanie Dube Dwilson

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.

Stay Confidential

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 Do not publish any papers about your invention or even write an abstract about your invention for a meeting.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.

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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.

Follow Up

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.

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Pros & Cons of Provisional Patent Application
 

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How to Patent a Toy Idea

It is impossible to patent a mere idea -- you must first reduce it to tangible form. To be eligible for a patent, your toy must be unique, useful and non-obvious. Of these three patent requirements, non-obviousness is the most difficult to meet, due to the low-tech nature of most toys -- your toy must exhibit a degree of innovation beyond the "state of the art" that would not be obvious to a skilled toy manufacturer. Toy designs are normally filed as utility patents, which expire 20 years after the original patent application filing date.

How to Acquire a Patent

A patent is a legalized monopoly in favor of the patent holder. The patent holder owns the exclusive right to use, reproduce, and distribute the patented idea, process, product, or model. Acquiring a patent requires the filing of a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, called the "PTO" for short. The PTO reviews the patent application, typically requests amendments or further explanation, and then approves or denies the patent application. Generally, the PTO approves any patent application that meets the fundamental patent criteria of novelty and utility.

What Needs a Patent: An Idea or An Invention?

When you have a great idea, you'll be tempted to patent the idea as soon as possible. However, simply having a great idea isn't enough to file for a patent. You'll need to meet a number of very specific requirements before you can start the patent application process and eventually obtain a patent.

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