Patent law is one of the most confusing and misunderstood disciplines out there. With so many lies, distortions, and myths (and so much conflicting advice) knowing what to do isn't always easy. Should you get a patent now, later, or at all? As you'll soon see, the answer to this question depends on your unique situation. Here are 5 prevalent patent & patent law myths to watch out for, and the truth behind them!
Myth 1) "I need a patent to be taken seriously."
Yes and no. You'll want patent protection when you're ready to start marketing your invention to customers or manufacturers. It'll give you peace of mind and reassure the people you're doing business with. (Plus, without a patent, there's really no intellectual property to sell.) But be warned - getting a full utility patent is a long, tedious process that could take as long as 6 years to complete! For this reason, it doesn't make a lot of sense to start this process until you really know your invention has legs. (One solution is applying for what's known as a provisional patent, which gives you full patent rights for a year at a greatly reduced cost. This is also known as "patent pending.")
Myth 2) "I can get a 'poor man's patent' by mailing myself sketches, diagrams, and documents."
As InventionPatent.net says, "A poor man's patent is essentially an urban legand that claims by writing a description of your invention, and mailing it to yourself or someone else by mail or certified mail, will protect your invention. !a href="http://www.inventionpatent.net/patent/poor-man's-patent.cfm">This is not true at all, and can in fact hurt your later patent rights." All this will prove is that you sent yourself mail on a certain date. That's not enough to prove you're the inventor of something if another person actually went ahead and got the patent for it. The person with patent rights granted from the US Patent and Trademark Office will be upheld as the true inventor, and you will have nothing to show for your efforts. So skip the "poor man's patent" chump's game and just get a real patent.
Myth 3) "I can't wait until my invention is ready. I need to patent my idea."
You cannot patent an idea. No one can. What you can patent, according to patent attorney Eugene Quinn, is a "visible, identifiable embodiment of an idea." In other words, you can only patent something you create from an idea, not an idea itself. This is known in patent law as the "first-to-invent" rule, and its meant to discourage patent trolls from locking up an idea without ever capitalizing on it or bringing anything to market. So if you want to patent something, create a prototype. Nothing less will do!
Myth 4) "A patent completely insulates me from competition."
This really depends on the type of patent you get. If your invention is very mechanical in nature and obviously different from existing products, the patent will probably stand up. (Furthermore, the better supported your patent application is with documents, sketches, drawings, lab results, and prototypes, the better off you will be.) Unfortunately, not all patents are so secure. Software patents, for example, have become almost an industry joke because of how routinely (and without any punishment) they are violated. Obviously, this isn't a situation you want to find yourself in, so check with a patent lawyer before assuming that a patent will sheld you from all competition.
Myth 5) "I can skip out on the attorney's fees and just file the patent application myself."
While theoretically true, this is not advised. A patent application is not like a credit card application, or the signup form for getting an e-mail account. Rather, you must follow a rigorous set of rules and guidelines for describing your invention in precise, painstaking detail to the US Patent and Trademark Office. Your drawings must be on a certain type of paper, a certain size of paper, and include certain things to even be taken seriously by the patent inspectors at the USPTO. (This is just one of many stringent, exacting requirements.) Again, it's not that you can't do this on your own. It's just very time-consuming and error prone to people who haven't been trained to do it. The typical layman inventor would be better off paying a patent attorney to file the application, and take heart in knowing it's been filed properly.
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