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What is the best way to patent an idea?

  1. Aug 17, 2009 #1
    I recently had an idea which is revolutionary to car travel. I would like to actually produce a prototype and gain publicity/funding for the idea, but I don't want to do anything until I have ownership of the idea. There seem to be several options available, but since this is my first attempt I can only guess on what is best.

    1. Invention websites- These are all around and in many forms, the claim to offer patent assistance as well as assistance in bringing an invention to market, although they all take a cut of the profits and possibly rip ideas off submitters before a patent is filled.

    2. A patent attorney- Haven't contacted one yet, so I'm not familiar with how much they cost or if they take a cut of the profits.

    3. Submitting through the patent office directly- A time consuming process, but possible.

    The idea I have goes under the category "Why hasn't someone thought of this before?" as it is not a radical idea, but a radical application of existing technologies. My biggest concern is having someone rip off my ideas as I progress from a napkin sketch to prototypes. Any real life experience would be helpfull.
     
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  3. Aug 17, 2009 #2

    Pengwuino

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    Get a patent lawyer. They don't take a portion of any profits you might someday make off your idea. They only charge fees. If you're getting one to fight against an infringement, it might be another story but I'm not sure.
     
  4. Aug 17, 2009 #3

    Danger

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    I agree with the tuxedo-clad one. A patent attorney is the only sure way to not get ripped off. The one that I approached up here charges a flat $1,500 per application. He also provides a critique service and patent search, covered by that fee, to make sure that you're not wasting your time trying to patent something which already exists, or just won't work, or both. The fee itself was enough to make me re-evaluate the potential of that particular product and decide against pursuing it. I have another one that's guaranteed to make a fortune, but I can't afford to build a prototype.
    Stay away from any on-line stuff, unless you've talked extensively with successful inventors who will vouch for them. Most are rip-off sites.
     
  5. Aug 17, 2009 #4
    Thanks for the advice. Online stuff scares me anyway because of all the scams out there. Guess I'll just set aside the cash for a patent attorney. One more quick question, how developed should an idea be to file a patent? Do I need detailed design drawings to start from or is it better to start with little and tailor what I need for the patent? I doubt an attorney will appreciate the pile of scribblings I have now.
     
  6. Aug 17, 2009 #5

    FredGarvin

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    That's not entirely true. Even if you do get a patent and hold it, you still have to have the resources to protect it. That means taking others to court to enforce it. Simply holding the patent is your proof. Proof does nothing if you don't have a way to defend it. Some people/companies may back off if you were to send them a nastygram saying you are infringing on my patent. However, if a major company knows you are a little guy holding a patent, they can wear you out and run you down due to legal fees. Here is a perfect example...Robert Kearns' patent lawsuit with automakers regarding delayed windshield wipers:
    http://www.autonews.com/article/20081002/ZZZ_SPECIAL/810029938

    My thinking would be to seek out professional help and advice through a patent lawyer but to also consider writing a paper for a peer reviewed work or body. Such a paper, especially presented at some convention, will make sure your name gets connected with this idea. It won't help you monetarily, but your name would be referenced. Something to think about.

    Get thee to a lawyer for a consultation. Perhaps you can find one to do the consultation for free if you decide to go back to them for the patent process.
     
  7. Aug 17, 2009 #6

    turbo

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    Fred's advice is good. If you patent a process, an idea, an application, and some big company decides to steal it and challenge you, you're toast. No way you have enough $$$$ to fight it out. Scientific priority might not inoculate you from that crap, but it might help in lower courts. Get your idea out there, get published, and hope that the funding for prototyping, refining, etc come your way. I have not patented any ideas (though some opportunities seemed ready) but publishing research results with well-documented references seems to hold the loons and the goons at arm's length.
     
  8. Aug 17, 2009 #7

    Pengwuino

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    Oh and by the way, one thing few people realize, is that it's your responsibility to challenge people over your patent. If someone infringes on your patent, it's not the patent office's responsibility of informing you or anything of the sort. You must actively pursue litigation.
     
  9. Aug 17, 2009 #8

    berkeman

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    From a thread earlier in the year about a similar (but different) question:

    I second what Fred said about a patent is not a be-all and end-all. There are a couple other options to explore to see if you can make a profitable venture out of it. If you can hide any intellectural property in it somehow, so it is difficult to reproduce/copy, that can let you sell it for a while before your IP is figured out. That's a strategy used in the high-tech and semiconductor markets a lot, where a patent basically tells everybody else how to copy your invention.

    Another way is to bring the product or service to market youself, in a start-up company that gets bought out by a bigger company after you have proven a risky technology/market. I don't know if your ideas fall into either one of those categories, however.

    I strongly recommend the Nolo Press website and that book. Spend some time there, and that should help you get an idea of some possible paths to pursue. And as discussed in the book, it is important no matter what to have a trusted, not-monetarily-interested, person who understands your work to witness some detailed written descriptions of what you have in mind. "Read and understood on date/time" and signed -- that's important for establishing the date of invention, in case you do end up patenting something and end up in court in the future having to prove that you thought of it before somebody else did.

    Good luck!
     
  10. Aug 18, 2009 #9
    Well, there is no way to bring the idea to market myself as it involves a lot of expensive R&D and also major changes to automotive design. Use this as a mental model: I have an idea for a wheel that is square, but promotes better fuel economy through computer control. It requires extensive expenses to bring to market and requires drastic changes to existing automobiles to be used, but in the end it could increase everyone's gas mileage without a decrease in comfort. The computer control already exists, but nobody has used a square wheel before and I would like to own the idea. No I'm not really talking about a square wheel!

    After talking with my dad about it at length my best course of action is to contact a patent attorney while developing the idea on a usable testbed and then getting a news story or two along with other publicity.

    Sorry if I'm a little cryptic with my descriptions, but I'm not willing at this time to say anything that could compromise my idea.
     
  11. Aug 18, 2009 #10

    berkeman

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    No worries, you're doing the right things. Definitely check out the Nolo Press resource, though. You will find a lot of value there. (No, I'm not a paid spokesperson for Nolo Press) :biggrin:

    A little off-topic, but not too far -- here are two automotive ideas that I didn't pursue because there was no good way I saw to profit by them (by virtue the issues we have brought up in this thread):

    -1- Make pickup tailgates have a 3rd position, which is folded into the bed. That would be the high-mileage, no-poking-out-the-back position. Relatively simple design change, with measurable savings in gas expenses.

    -2- For race cars and race sportbikes/superbikes -- make a pressure modulating device inside the tires that increases the pressure at higher speeds (simple light mechanical centrifugal device at first, before computer telemetry optimization mapping per track...). Lower pressure in the turns increases traction, while higher pressure on the straights and at higher speeds increases tread life. (Probably would be banned after it was found out the teams were using it, but whatever...)


    EDIT -- Oh, and BTW, I do have several patents in high-tech EE subjects that have made good profits for my assignee companies. But the trend lately is definitely toward the hidden IP approach that I mentioned above, instead of patent protection/litigation.
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2009
  12. Aug 18, 2009 #11

    Danger

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    That's a wise approach.
     
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