While there’s innovative product like iPhone, most new products are improved versions of old products.
Patent is an exclusive right to appropriate an invention.
Patent is often considered a luxury to a small and midsize business. More often than not, you find out about the importance of patents after someone accuses you of a patent infringement. It could be a cease and desist letter or a service of process.
Without an understanding of how patent works, you will never know if you are safe from patent lawsuits.
The problem with a patent lawsuit is that it’s so expensive that most small businesses can’t afford it. What happens then? You enter into a settlement agreement to avoid going to the courthouse. In fact, this can be cheaper than winning the lawsuit after costly legal proceedings.
Even worse, it could happen that:
- you actually came up with the idea yourself, but didn’t apply for a patent;
- you have no idea what are the infringing activities that the patent owner claims, or
- the patent is just bogus (e.g. it’s a standard technique in your industry).
Read more and avoid expensive mistakes for your business!
How can IPfever reduce the cost of patent? We set up simple rules: (1) you do your own homework; (2) attorneys work online; and (3) we make sure the attorneys fees are proportional to what you get.
First, you do your own homework.
If you just ignore an issue because it’s too much to deal with yourself, nothing ever changes. Most small businesses don’t have a legal counsel of their own, meaning you probably need to spend extra money to work on IP issues. This is a mishap that can be avoided by educating yourself. In fact, basics of patent law can be understood within a reasonable time as long as you know where to look.
Second, attorneys work online.
This is an overly simple statement of what actually needs to be done. We’re talking about reducing unnecessary cost on lawyer’s part. Why do you need a fancy office space in downtown when the government agency you’re dealing with is not even in town?
When a patent research is virtually all about online databases, you don’t want to pay law firm’s researchers, administrative clerks and paralegals for an initial review of your company’s patent portfolio. It is an instant impression of your attorney that you want the most when you ask a lawyer if your business needs a patent. Unfortunately, a lawyer’s typical hourly charge include every help listed above.
Lastly, IPfever makes sure you get what you paid for.
It is unfortunate that the most businesses and individuals can’t afford a lawyer. What about a free initial consultation? We all know free stuff can be poisonous. When an attorney greets a free client, what would be first in his or her mind? He or she wants your business! A need for legal service will be emphasized, and a quick and easy solution is disfavored over conservative and costly measures.
IPfever wants to solve this problem with fairness in mind. If you hard press lawyers to give out more free stuff, it might good in the beginning but won’t last long. Nonetheless, it’s plausible that you can set up a fair ground where you pay for actual value of lawyer’s service. This is awesome not only for clients but also for lawyers who has a good legal mind but lacks marketing skills.
A fair ground starts with a better understanding.
If you are retaining an attorney because you don’t know a thing about the law, then you’re like asking a mechanic to take care of your car with a promise to pay whatever is done.
Read more posts written by professionals.
Go back to see other topics in the Patent Basics.
Patent is an intellectual property right, which is not aimed to boost the economy but intended to advance science and technology. So, many business-minded people will struggle with the basic concept of patent and how it should be used for their business.
On the other hand, patent is recognized as the most reliable and strong intellectual property right in business. You probably heard about its importance even if you really don’t know much.
The hurdle for small businesses in developing a strong patent portfolio is the expense. Does it have to be prohibitively expensive? Well, it doesn’t have to be. The more you know about the patent, the more likely you will find a solution for your business yourself.
It doesn't have to be so expensive.
It's just that the law firms, boutiques, or their likes practicing patent law are focused on serving bigger mostly corporate clients rather than individual inventors.
When it comes to an invention which is more about an idea and less about technology, you don't need PhDs spending hours reviewing the art let alone attorneys.
In addition, firms charge more money per hour for small clients than those bigger corporate accounts that generate vast volumes. You can't really blame them as that's how business works, but it's unfortunate that there are few options for individuals and small businesses.
There are alternative, smarter ways to work with attorneys thanks to the internet.
It won't be easy to find them because the internet search usually shows heavily advertised service first, which can be cheap but not necessarily a better deal. At all times, make sure that you're working with a patent attorney/agent who's registered with the USPTO.
Go back to see other topics in the Patent Basics
Getting a patent is not like having a trademark registered.
If you started using a name, logo, image, or even a sequence of musical notes as a symbol that stands for your product or service, you already have a trademark. Trademark registration is a way to give an affirmative notice to the public that you are using the mark. The registration offers some perks, which are very helpful for your business, but the intellectual property right is not created by it.
On the other hand, a patent right is created when the government issue you a patent because your creative work doesn’t itself create a property right. If you invented something, you have a choice. You can disclose the ins and outs of the invention in exchange for an intellectual property right or just keep it under your sleeve.
You should wisely decide whether you apply for a patent or not.
A patent application usually discloses something you want to hide from the public as the law requires that (usually after 18 months from the application date) your application be published. In other words, everyone in the world will be able to access the disclosed information in the patent application.
If you have a technology that is immune to reverse-engineering and you are confident that you can keep the secret, getting a patent is probably more of a public service than a business move. Of course, there are instances that you want to open your technology to make it an industry standard. In this case, you patent the technology so people can learn about it, and you promise that you won’t withhold this patented technology unfairly (like demanding unreasonable license fees to discriminate your competitors).
On the other hand, if your technology is not immune to reverse-engineering or you know others will soon catch up your progress, you likely need a patent protection. It will deter copycats and protect your business from an instance where someone else is issued a patent for the same technology and sues you. This situation can be also prevented by disclosing your work to the public in advance because the means for disclosure doesn’t have to be a patent application. Though, in this case you’re simply giving up your rights to the invention.
You found nothing like yours in your Google Patents search, and you might feel ready to patent your new idea. It's not that simple.
First, your invention should be new in a sense that people don't know it yet.
Even if nobody really patented an idea, the idea might be known to many as a common sense or to a small number of people known as experts or scholars. It doesn't matter how many people know it.
When you go into detailed analysis, it gets more complicated. Let's say your company is the first to sell a mouse pad made of bamboo and you want to patent it.
- The bamboo is obviously not a new material; it's not even a man-made material. Clearly, it's not something you can consider an invention.
- Similarly, a mouse pad is not a new thing. It's been made of many different materials and widely used in personal computing.
- Now, a mouse pad made of bamboo? Let's further assume nobody on the planet Earth ever made or used a mouse pad made of bamboo. Is it new then?
Unfortunately, it's not. The law will not only look at the things that already exist but also guess what can be done with existing technology and skills. I mean bamboo is a sturdy and hard material that can be easily shaped into a small plate. The law will likely say that your new idea of making a mouse pad with a bamboo was obvious. Basically it's saying that "we don't need an inventor to do that."
Second, you have to fit your idea into certain categories that can be patented.
The law provides a short list: process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter. If you think about it, it's pretty broad. In the above example, we discussed a bamboo mouse pad as a manufacture, which we concluded not patentable.
However, you may have a ground-breaking manufacturing method to process a raw bamboo tree into a large plate that can be easily cut into any shape of mouse pads. Well, that might be a patentable "process".
We can go further. If you designed and made a machine for the processing of raw bamboo trees, you may patent the machine as long as it satisfies other requirements. As you can guess, inventors often patent a manufacture, the process of making it, and the machine that performs the process at the same time.
Lastly, your idea has to have a purpose.
This is usually not a concern because the law doesn't ask for a good one. If you can find a single use for your invention, that'll be fine. The use doesn't have to be new or better than others. In fact, even if your method of processing bamboo turned out to be too expensive to make economic sense, it still has a utility in the eye of the law.
Patent is an expensive but smart way to protect your business.
Getting a patent is not a quick and easy process. It usually takes years of prosecution (though you can claim "patent pending" from the moment you file the application) and thousands of dollars. However, the reward is a government sanctioned monopoly. Yes, MONOPOLY.
Patent is a deal you make with the public.
You discloses something other people don't know, and in exchange other people can't use it for a limited time period (about twenty years) unless you allow them. It's a win-win. You don't have to worry about someone else stealing your idea, and the others can learn and improve your invention.
It's not a contract.
Although the exchange of knowledge and a monopoly right is between you and the rest of the society, there's no contractual relationship between you and the society. Instead, the United States Patent and Trademark Office ("USPTO") issues a patent to applicants who discloses their knowledge in patent applications which meet certain requirements. Moreover, if someone infringes your patent rights, you don't go to the USPTO (nor to a law enforcement agency) but to courts.