Now this is one of my most controversial subjects because there are very few so called experts out there that agree with me on how to protect an invention without a patent. The fact is that I am inventing and selling products every day and have dealt with this issue dozens of times with my own inventions.
To answer this directly: you can’t protect your invention idea without a patent but…… a patent may not protect you anyway! This is the misconception along with misinformation you will find out there on the internet. Unfortunately, just about any idea can be patented even if it isn’t original. It’s all in the way the patent is written and what claims are presented within the patent filing.
The two types of patents for inventors.
There are actually three types of patent filings but Plant Patents generally are not within our scope as inventors. These types of patents are relatively newer (1930) and reserved for genetically altered plants and similar biological discoveries.
Utility patents are the most common and the only type an inventor will generally need to worry about. Known as the “patent for inventors”, they are intended to protect you by stopping others from making, using or selling your invention without permission. In order to get a utility patent accepted, the invention must be a new or improved product, process or machine.
An early example of this would be the Cotton Gin invented by Eli Whitney
A design patent only protects the “surface ornamentation” of product which is why I stay away from these types of patents altogether. This basically means that a design patent covers the shape and some minor functions of the invention. To protect the technology, functional or structural components of a product, utility patents are the only choice. Utility patents are usually much more complicated to prepare to ensure full patent protection.
As you can see from the example above, the infringement is simply for the style of a shoe. If you are planning on patenting the design of a new television remote, all a person has to do is move the buttons around and make sure they don’t copy the “look” of your invention.
It is an inventor’s job to get around patents!
What did I just say? Did I say it was the inventor’s job to infringe on patents? NO, NOT AT ALL. Its your job as an inventor to make sure you aren’t infringing on other people’s patents while you are designing your product. That means you have to get good at patent research and start learning what to look for. If you start by using Google Patent Search, you will begin to see what I mean. Type in some keywords related to your idea and see what you find. You may notice many things similar to your idea but do not get discouraged. If you read the patents in detail, you will start focusing on the claims and notice that very little is actually protected in most cases. It’s usually just the “way” (method) a product works or the types of technologies that were combined to make a product or invention. In many cases with my technology inventions, there are dozens of patents for the way a product is manufactured or assembled. All I do is make sure I don’t manufacture my parts the same way or use those types of assembly processes. The nice thing about electronic products is that there are literally thousands of ways you can design a circuit board to do the same things. This gives me many solutions to make sure I haven’t violated a patent. After all, I don’t want someone filing a lawsuit against me!
What are you really trying to protect?
Some of you might have noticed that I completely left out what are known as “Provisional Patents”. That is because provisional applications, as they are legally known, are not patents at all. A provisional application is just a document filed with the patent office that establishes the earliest possible date of filing in the event someone else tries to patent your idea. A word of caution here: Provisional applications are very complicated to do correctly. When you file a provisional application, there is no review process and it is kept in a sealed envelope for up to one year. Once you file your utility or design patent, the provisional document filing is also unsealed. The patent officer who reviews both sets of documents then determines if the provisional and non-provisional patents are closely related. If there are not enough obvious matches in the documents, the non-provisional date becomes the filing date.
There is so much confusion and yes, dishonesty with those “invention help” companies that it is very frustrating for someone like me to see new inventors led down the path of provisional patents. The term is actually “Provisional Application” but through television marketing they have become known as patents even though they are never reviewed by the patent office at time of submission. Generally speaking, unless you have a very experienced patent attorney and are willing to spend the time and money, a provisional patent will do little to protect your invention or product idea. It is best just to go directly to filing your utility patent in most cases if you absolutely must have a patent.
Getting Legal Help
Obviously, I am not a lawyer so I am just stating my own experiences here on this website. Patents are very complex and rarely something you can do on your own without some help from legal experts if you truly are looking for protection from others infringing on your ORIGINAL invention or product idea.
Please notice how I bold and capitalize ORIGINAL. That’s because in most cases, your idea isn’t as original as you think and a patent won’t offer much protection even if one is granted. It’s all in how the patent was written and that is where you must involve lawyers when it comes time to defend your patent in court. Remember, lawyers don’t work for free and rarely, if ever will work for a percentage of the settlement in patent cases. They are way too complex and risky so your lawyers will want money upfront before taking on the case.
Do you have the money to fight patent infringement?
What if you are granted a patent for an original idea and the patent was written by good attorneys that made sure it was bulletproof? Someone sees the success of your product on the internet and decides to copy it outright. Let’s say you are selling tons of these with a gross of around one million dollars per year and a profit after all expenses of a handsome $250,000.00. Do you take those profits and spend most of that money to lawyers and file lawsuits against the infringers?
You can do this but keep in mind that legal battles like this are time consuming, technical in nature and very, very expensive. You could see all your profits going down the drain quickly. Even worse, you could find your patent claims being disputed and your patent thrown out completely. This kind of stuff happens every day even to the largest of companies.
Here is a short video that I created to explain the reality of patents and how difficult and expensive it will be to protect your idea even if you do have a patent.
A long answer to what you thought was a simple question!
The good news is that the second part of this answer is actually simple with a real solution to your problem.
Be first to market and sell lots of product! This is how you protect your idea without a patent. This is how I protect every one of my products and none of them are patented. The key to success is being the first to market with the best product. Here is are few ways you can do it:
- Be first to market with your type of product.
- Establish a popular and trusted brand on the internet.
- Invent followup products within a year.
- Build quality products at higher price points. (low cost products are easy to rip off)
- Find niche markets where few other manufactures sell things.
- Find markets where people have money to spend.
Here at Invention Therapy, I try to teach you guys the power of doing things on your own. In my opinion, the reason the “invention help” companies are so popular is because they are selling you guys on this idea that all you have to do is come up with an idea and people will just throw money at you. If that was the case, I wouldn’t be writing this blog right now because my ideas have proven to be very profitable but nobody has ever been willing to write me a check before my product had a track record via a sales history.
So now you know how to protect an invention without a patent. I really hope that you found this post to be informative. There will be many more written on this topic in the future. Please stick around and read all the information on this website. It is unlikely you will find this type of information anywhere else on the web.