You Don’t Need a Lawyer to Get a Patent
Thousands of inventors have successfully obtained patents without hiring lawyers. Here’s how.
You’ve got an invention – a product or technology that would fill a need or solve a problem. You might even make some money, if you could get the exclusive right to produce or to license your invention.
In other words, you need a patent.
But you have more imagination than money, and a patent attorney wants $7,500 to file a patent application for you. Must your invention gather dust in the garage, or can you apply for a patent yourself, without a lawyer?
Thousands of inventors have successfully navigated the patent system on their own. In fact, federal law requires patent examiners to help individual inventors who apply for patents without a lawyer’s help.
To obtain a patent, you need to be able to describe all aspects of your invention, and you need to make sure your invention qualifies for a patent. These aren’t “legal” skills, and learning them is no different than learning any other skill, whether it’s auto repair, deck installation or gourmet cooking. Some steps are easy, others are more difficult. As with all new endeavors, you will succeed by trial and error. But by taking the process one step at a time, you can acquire a patent.
Here’s a quick look at the basic steps you need to take before filing a patent application. You’ll see that nothing about the process requires a lawyer. There’s no court, no judge, no “legal” research. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has specific rules, but you can follow them just as you would a recipe in a cookbook.
Keep a careful record of your invention. Record every step of the invention process in a notebook. Describe and diagram every aspect and every modification of the invention. Depending on the invention, you may also need to build and test a prototype. Document all of these efforts. Sign and date each entry and have two reliable witnesses sign as well.
Assess the Commercial Potential of Your Invention. Applying for a patent is a business decision. Even without a patent attorney it costs $1,000 in fees to file and obtain a patent from the PTO. Before you spend the time and money to file a patent application you need to research the market you hope to enter. What sets your invention apart from the other products in your field?
Make Sure Your Invention Qualifies for Patent Protection. You cannot get a patent just on an idea. You need to be able to show how your invention works. Your invention must be new. This means it must be different in some important way from all previous inventions. It also cannot be for sale or be known about for more than a year before you apply for a patent.
Do a Thorough Patent Search. To make sure your invention is new, you need to search all the earlier developments in your field. This involves searching U.S. (and sometimes foreign) patents, as well as other publications like scientific and technical journals, to find related inventions.
Although patent searching is time consuming, it can be mastered with practice. It is a research rather than a legal skill. Even if you decide to hire a professional later on in the process, you know the most about your invention, so you are the best person to start the search.
You can start your research on the Internet, but you may also want to visit a Patent and Trademark Depository Library, where you can search earlier patents and get help from a librarian.
When you search, you will certainly find other inventions that are similar to yours. But if your invention is special, you will be able to show how it improves upon or is different from these earlier developments, and you will be able to prepare a strong patent application.