Thomas Edison once said, “The value of an idea lies in the using of it." Edison should know -- as one of America’s most prolific inventors, he accumulated an astonishing 1,084 utility patents between 1869 and 1933.
Edison’s wise words emulate the sentiment that each invention has a lifespan. First, an idea is born as an intangible thought that an innovator conjures up. For some ideas, that is the end of the line.
For others, ideation is just the beginning. The more daring inventors who wish to give their idea the greatest level of value make their idea become a reality, turning it into a tangible product that may make the world a better place.
Intellectual property: key consideration for inventors
In developing a new product, there are many thoughts inventors should keep in mind. One key consideration is intellectual property protection. Specifically, innovators should look to obtain patents on their products as early as possible in their idea’s lifespan.
What is a patent?
A patent grants exclusive use to the inventor of a useful, novel, non-obvious invention for a time period of up to twenty years. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) grants patents after a rigorous and time-intensive application process and review.
The right conferred by a patent grant is “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the United States or importing the invention into the US.
Patents are a powerful form of intellectual property protection that can save inventions from being copied. A valid patent bars protection for any subsequent independent invention by another even “more deserving” inventor, deeming the later inventor the infringer.
Why should I patent my new product?
First, patents are powerful due to the inherent value of inventions. If you’ve objectively determined that you have a valuable invention on your hands, it is prudent to get patent protection. Patent protection can bring you two kinds of comfort: the comfort of being in the lead over people who might steal your idea before you hit the market, and then the comfort of knowing that your invention is protected by law which will come in handy if someone tries to copy your idea.
Second, once you have a patent for your new invention, you can more easily justify your subsequent investments in design, research, production and marketing- which will make you more attractive to investors at the end of the day. Patents have applications across multiple industries, making your invention credible in more than just the space you are inventing in.
Third, patents bring powerful licensing opportunities that can help you capitalize on your invention.
Any tips for a first time inventor?
J.D. Houvener, founder & CEO of Bold IP, says that a good tip is to “Seek patent protection on your product with enforcement in mind. Work with the right patent attorney from day one. Don’t just try to work with any old patent agent, or try to do it yourself to just get the patent through. If you’re going to do the process, do it right, and work with an attorney to think through how you will monetize it and enforce your rights. The time may come to prevent infringers and copycats from trying to rip off your idea, and it is best to be prepared rather than caught off guard.”
Another good rule of thumb is to keep your invention under wraps before you file for a patent. If you need to disclose your invention to the marketplace be sure to have at least started filing a provisional patent application.
Carly Klein is a law student at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. A graduate from Boston University with a B.A. in Political Science & Philosophy, she has previously served an Americorps term at the American Red Cross in Los Angeles on the Service to the Armed Forces & International Services Team.