I have a few ideas that I think could really be a success. I started researching “how to patent an idea” but have been bombarded with information. I have no clue where to start, and I have only a limited budget. What should be my first step?
This is a question I receive quite frequently. The patent process can be complex and knowing where to begin and how to responsibly pursue your inventions in a cost-responsible manner is not always easy, particularly for first time inventors.
The reality is that inventing and patenting does take financial resources and there is no patent attorney or patent agent who can help you if you have no funds. Limited funding will scare away many, but there are ways to move forward even with limited funding. Of course, the more limited your funding the more you will have to do on your own, which means you need to be prepared to do some reading, becoming as familiar as possible with the process and legal requirements. Thus, the best first step you can take is to familiarize yourself with the concepts, law and regulations. I strongly recommend starting your journey on our Inventing page. There is a collection of “reading assignments” there to lay the foundation on the basic information you will need to know. Each article will also contain links to other articles for more information on the topic.
Next, once you get a sense for the laws, rules and challenges, you absolutely must work on a budget. I have worked with independent inventors and small businesses for years and have helped many with limited budgets make the most out of the money they have to work with. It is possible to start with a limited budget and doing things step by step within the budget you have and still succeed. In fact, an inventor I started working with back in 2008 is now on the verge of huge success.
It is possible to succeed even starting with a limited budget, but you really do need to plan ahead and develop a strategy that makes sense within your resources and one that doesn’t invest unnecessarily or recklessly. This conserves resources in a responsible way, while still laying the ground work for obtaining the benefits and protections offered by the patent laws. The nightmare scenario you need to avoid is spending to much on any one invention that winds up going nowhere. If this happens you not only lose what you invested, but you also potentially lose valuable funds that could be used to pursue the next great idea you have. Over the years as I have worked with inventors and musicians what I have learned is that creative people are rarely, if ever, only going to create once.
Remember, Thomas Edison was not always successful in his first attempts and he famously said that failed experiments were not failures because he learned what did not work. While it is unrealistic to think any of us are the next Thomas Edison, we should definitely learn from him and responsibly invent where there is a market need and understand that failure is inevitable at times. You just need to treat failure as a hurdle rather than an insurmountable road block.
We have a number of articles to explain how to start the process in a responsible way. Take a look at:
- Business Responsible Approach to Inventing
- Financially Responsible Inventing: Prototype Basics
- Keep Your Money in Your Wallet Until Proof of Concept
- Patent Searches: Great Opportunity to Focus on What is Unique
Of course, any time you start the invention and patenting process on a limited budget there is something of a chicken and an egg problem. Do you start with a patent search to see whether it makes sense to move forward, or do you start with a provisional patent application first? Notice that I have already ruled out a nonprovisional patent application as the starting point. The cost of a nonprovisional patent application can be quite high and unnecessary to start the process. You can file a provisional patent application, use the coveted terms “patent pending” and then within 12 months file a nonprovisional patent application if it appears as if the invention will be worthwhile.
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A lot of inventors will do their own patent search first, if it is OK then file a provisional patent application. Then on the road to filing a nonprovisional patent application they have a professional patent search done and reviewed by a patent attorney or patent agent. A search is always better to start, but resource limitations are what they are and sometimes strategies need to be developed to move forward under less than ideal circumstances. If you want to do your own patent search first, which is a good idea, definitely read Patent Searching 101, which explains how to do a good search. Please do realize, however, that at some point you really will need a professional search. Professional searches will find far more than an inventor can find because searchers do this for a living 40 hours a week for years. They are extremely good at finding whatever is available to be found. So start on your own, but be careful not to invest a lot of money simply because you didn’t find anything. If you cannot find anything similar to your invention based on your own search please read No Prior Art for My Invention.
I have also created a do-it-yourself provisional patent application system called the Invent + Patent System that you might be interested in using. This unique system, on which I have a patent application pending myself, allows you to create a provisional patent application for filing with the United States Patent Office. What you can do yourself is obviously not going to be as good as what a patent attorney could do, but the system does create good applications if you actually follow through and use the examples and templates to guide you. The cost to use the system is $99, and then the price you would have to pay to the US Patent Office for filing, which is currently $130 if you are a small entity. Using the Invent + Patent System is how I teach law students to draft applications over the years and it has proven to be quite successful.
If you can afford to hire a patent attorney or a patent agent to prepare and file a provisional patent application that would be preferable. My firm can typically prepare and file a provisional patent application for $2,000 to $2,500 plus the filing fee and cost of any professional drawings, although for some complex inventions and software related inventions the cost to prepare and file a provisional patent application rises to $5,000 plus the filing and drawing fees. Thus, many on a limited budget are priced out and the choice becomes do it themselves or not do it at all. If that is you consider the Invent + Patent System. For more information on estimated costs see Cost of Obtaining a Patent.
For more information on the basics of inventing please see:
- Understanding Obviousness: John Deere and the Basics
- Describing an Invention in a Patent Application
- When should you do a Patent Search?
- Plausibly estimating the market for your invention
- Every invention starts with an idea
- Patent Drafting: Identifying the Patentable Feature
- The Importance of Keeping an Expansive View of the Invention
- Getting Your Invention to Market: Licensing vs. Manufacturing
- Obtaining Exclusive Rights for Your Invention in the United States
- Completely Describe Your Invention in a Patent Application
- The Successful Inventor: Patenting Improvements
- Protecting Ideas: Can Ideas Be Protected or Patented?
- When is an Invention Obvious?
- How to Find Valuable Invention Services
- A Better Mouse Trap: Patents and the Road to Riches
- I Can’t Find Prior Art for My Invention
- Keep Your Money In Your Wallet Until Proof of Concept
- Invention to Patent: Pitfalls, Perils and Process
- Turn Your Idea into an Invention with a Good Description
- Financially Responsible Inventing: Prototype Basics
- Patent Searches: A Great Opportunity to Focus on What is Unique
- The Business Responsible Approach to Inventing
- Inventing 101: Protecting Your Invention When You Need Help
- The Top 5 Mistakes Inventors Make
- Keeping a Good Invention Notebook
- Inventor Pitfalls: Causing Irretrievable Patent Damage
- Patentability Overview: When can an Invention be Patented?
- Invention Services: Finding Valuable Services & Avoiding Scams
- When Should a Do It Yourself Inventor Seek Patent Assistance?
- One Simple Idea: Turn Your Dreams into a Licensing Goldmine
- Moving Forward Responsibly with Your Invention Idea
Good luck and happy inventing.