Many people think that Ideas constitute an Invention. In this module, we make the distinction between an idea and an invention more clear.

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1 Many people think that Ideas constitute an Invention. In this module, we make the distinction between an idea and an invention more clear. 1

2 2

3 The invention process for the successful inventor should start with an important problem that needs to be solved. An invention that solves an important problem increases the probability of economic profit from the solution. However, if the problem is important it is more likely that other inventions or products have been presented as solutions. Once an idea for a solution has been produced, however, it is not yet an invention. The idea must be fleshed out, and able to be described, drawn, and implemented or manufactured. 3

4 Having an idea is just the first step toward an invention. In order to qualify as an invention, the idea must solve a problem, be able to be described and drawn, and serve a practical purpose. To be patentable, it must also be new and not obvious. For example, let s say someone has a dog who lives outside, but when the temperature drops in the winter, its water freezes. The problem: the dog cannot drink frozen water. The dog s owner brainstorms and comes up with an idea: a heated drinking bowl. For the idea to become an invention, the owner must plan specific details, like the material the bowl is made of, what type of heating mechanism to use, where to integrate the heater into the bowl, whether the device will be safe to use, and many other details. The invention (heated bowl) must be functional. Even though you may have an invention, this does not mean that the invention can be patented. 4

5 Owners of property have rights to legally use that property to benefit themselves or others. Most property that we think about is real property. For example, you own a car and you have the right to use the car in legal ways that serve you, your family and friends. Intellectual property can also have value, and the rights to that value are protected in at least four ways. Intellectual property rights allow people to assert ownership rights on the outcomes of their creativity and innovative activity in the same way they can own physical (or real) property. Protection options include Trademarks, Copyrights, Patents, and Trade Secrets. According to the USTPO, A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. A service mark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods. The term trademark is often used to refer to both trademarks and service marks. This is an option if the product is not new but not infringing on other intellectual property rights, and thus the trademark can be sold. Federal registration (of trademarks) has several advantages, including a notice to the public of the registrant's claim of ownership of the mark, a legal presumption of ownership nationwide, and the exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods or services set forth in the registration. A copyright protects works of authorship, such as writings, music, and works of art that have been tangibly expressed. A patent is a limited duration property right relating to an invention, granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in exchange for public disclosure of the invention. Patents may be granted by other governments as well, though international patent protection can be a very complex legal endeavor. Trade secrets are information that companies keep secret to give them an advantage over their competitors. The formula for Coca Cola is the most famous trade secret. Trade secrets do not protect you if someone else discovers your secret and begins to use that information. Many other food products are protected as trade secrets. If you would like additional information, please feel free to access the USTPO website at: 5

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7 An inventor may want to protect their invention by applying for a U.S. Patent. According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, A patent is an intellectual property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted. The revelation of the idea is a requirement to achieve the patent. Disclosing and revealing invention details may make it easier for competitors to modify or improve your invention. 6

8 There are three types of patents: Utility, Design, and Plant. Utility patents are the most common type of patent and protect a new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter, or improvement of any of the previous. Design patents only protect the ornamental exterior design none of the inner workings of the item are protected. Design patents are generally not very useful or profitable for individual inventors. Plant patents protect new asexually reproducible plant varieties, such as rose hybrids. 7

9 Obtaining a patent is important to protecting your new and useful invention, but it is limited. A United States patent does not protect the invention in any other country. For more information on international patents, visit and click on What is a PCT application? In addition, the US Patent and Trademark Office does not enforce the patents they issue or help the inventor license or sell their product. Therefore, if a person or company steals your idea, the inventor is responsible for prosecuting and retaining and paying for their own legal counsel. Similarly, a patent does not automatically produce profit for the inventor. In order to make money, the inventor must either go into business personally, license the invention, and/or sell all patent rights. A patent is also not the only means to protect intellectual property rights. Depending on the property needing protection, options include copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. 8

10 In order to obtain a patent, the invention must be: Useful: it must have a purpose it fulfills. For example, perpetual motion machines are not useful. Novel: it must be a new invention, meaning not patented, used, sold, or even published anywhere before. Non obvious: the invention must not be an obvious solution to the problem. Adequately described or enabled: an idea for a product or service must be developed adequately in order to put it into practice (show that it works) or described in enough detail so that it may be built by someone skilled in the technology area. Claimed in clear terms: the parts of the design that the inventor wants to protect must be specifically written out in the claims portion of the patent application. A patent attorney or agent is the best option for preparing patent applications. 9

11 There are certain categories of things which cannot be patented. Laws of nature (i.e. gravity), physical phenomena (wave action, volcanoes), and abstract ideas (generic cure for any disease) do not qualify for patents. Literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works can only be protected through the Copyright Office ( As mentioned before, all inventions must be useful to obtain a patent, and must not be offensive to public morality. 10

12 Filing a provisional application is a way to officially establish a date of conception of the idea with the USPTO. Currently, the United States is a first to file country, which means that the first person to file for a patent for an idea one entitled to the patent, not the first person to come up with the idea. The U.S. changed to a first inventor to file system from the first to invent system in March A provisional application is inexpensive, and patent officers do not review the applications until a non provisional application is filed later. The main benefit of a provisional application is the protection it provides against public disclosure. Once an inventor files a provisional application, their invention is deemed patent pending. Thus, they can talk to businesses about licensing agreements, finance their project, or conduct specific market analysis without fear of their idea being infringed upon. Plus, the provisional application provides a 12 month window for the inventor to decide if pursuing a much more involved and expensive non provisional patent is worthwhile. If a non provisional application is not filed within 12 months of the provisional application s filing date, the provisional application will be abandoned, and the invention will most likely no longer be patentable, because an inventor only has 12 months to patent an invention from the first date of public disclosure (sale, publication, provisional application) anyway. 11

13 Inventors should attempt to maintain a realistic view of the odds of their invention being successful. Just because a patent has been obtained does not mean that the invention will make profits for the inventor. There are many patented products that have never been sold or even produced in some cases. Various sources say that very few (some say less than 1%) inventions actually make it to the marketplace. In addition, obtaining a patent is expensive, costing between $10,000 to $20,000 depending on the complexity of the invention. These costs include attorney fees and maintenance fees, which must be paid for the patent to avoid early expiration. Because of the current backlog of applications in the USPTO, a patent application can take up to several years to process. Therefore, an inventor should seriously consider the potential marketability and profitability of their invention before attempting to obtain a patent on it

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