So You Think
You’ve Got a Good Idea?

We get calls every day from individuals who think they have invented the next big thing. They are convinced that they have the idea that will make them rich, and if they can only get a patent, the world will beat a path to their doorstep. It happens that way in the movies, right. Every seen the movie Robots?

Rodney Copperbottom is considered a genius inventor. Rodney dreams of three things, making the world a better place, meeting his idol, and making enough money to become rich. If you haven’t seen the movie, stop reading now. Ok, I warned you. He meets his idol, shows him his invention, dispatches the bad guy, gets the girl and gets rich, all in two hours.

Real life is a little different. There are several myths regarding inventions:

Your idea Is Unique - In real life, it is not so simple. First of all, your idea is probably not unique. We get calls from people claiming that someone stole their idea, or they saw their product on the shelf at Home Depot. I have no doubt that was their idea. However, someone else beat them to it.

  1. Every Idea Is a Good One – If you listen to late night infomercials, they seem to imply that if you only had a protected your idea, you would be rich. Some ideas are great but not commercially viable.
  2. Filing for a Patent Application Does Not Guarantee a Patent – No one can guarantee that you will receive a patent. The USPTO examiner determines whether your idea is patentable or not.
  3. Patents Are Lottery Tickets – Having a patent does not guarantee that you make money.
  4. Big Companies Pay Big Bucks to License Patents – Large multi-national companies generally do not license ideas from individual inventors.
Now that we have the myths out of the way, what do you do now?

The most successful inventions have the following characteristics.

  1. Does the product solve a need?
  2. Can the product be demonstrated?
  3. Can the product be manufactured for a reasonable cost?
  4. Can the product be sold for a reasonable price in regard to the value of the product? The rule of thumb is that is if the product’s retail price is $5.00, the manufacturing cost is $1.00.
  5. Do you have experience in the industry the patent was created?
  6. Do you have contacts in the industry in which the product will be sold?
  7. Have you searched the internet to see if the product exists? A good way to do this is to go to, and type in a description of your idea. Go through each of the links, and see if anyone is producing your idea.
  8. Do you have a prototype?
The more you know about the market, and how your idea fits in the market, the greater chances of success. We recommend that you thoroughly research your idea before pursuing a patent. Remember, the patent is a beginning, not an end. For an invention to be successful, it must be the right product at the right time at the right price.

There are three different types of patents

  1. Plant Patents – A plant patent is granted by the Government to an inventor (or the inventor's heirs or assigns) who has invented or discovered and asexually reproduced a distinct and new variety of plant, other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state. The grant, which lasts for 20 years from the date of filing the application, protects the inventor's right to exclude others from asexually reproducing, selling, or using the plant so reproduced.
  2. Utility Patents – apply to new and useful processes, machines, manufactures, compositions of matter, or any new and useful improvement of one of these. Generally speaking, if your invention does something, you should apply for a utility patent. Traditionally, utility patents have been divided into three basic types: mechanical, electrical, and chemical.
  3. Design Patents – A design consists of the visual ornamental characteristics embodied in, or applied to, an article of manufacture. Since a design is manifested in appearance, the subject matter of a design patent application may relate to the configuration or shape of an article, to the surface ornamentation applied to an article, or to the combination of configuration and surface ornamentation. A design for surface ornamentation is inseparable from the article to which it is applied and cannot exist alone. It must be a definite pattern of surface ornamentation, applied to an article of manufacture.
After you have searched to the internet to see if the idea does not already exists, the patent process consists of the following steps:
  1. Patent Research – Before a patent application is filed, a patent search should be conducted in the USPTO office. The inventor should have a description of the invention, and a drawing or picture of the product. The searcher should physically go to the patent office, and discuss the idea with an examiner. The examiner tells the searcher what classification the idea falls into, and the searcher reviews the existing patents for similar ideas. A search report should be generated and be reviewed by someone other than the searcher to determine the patentability of the idea.
  2. Patent Application – If the patent search comes back with an encouraging report, and the inventor agrees, the patent application should be written by a registered patent agent or patent attorney. Ask them what their background is, how many patents they have written, how many of their patent applications have been rejected, and how many patents have are now being sold in the marketplace.
  3. Office Action – After the patent application is filed, the application is reviewed by twelve examiners, and one senior examiner. The application is reviewed in light of the three criteria:
    • Unique - Your patent must, of course, be novel.
    • Useful – Idea must be useful.
    • Unobvious - This means would the idea be obvious to a person of ordinary skill in the field the invention encompasses.
    If the examiner finds the patent application does not meet one of these criteria, then an office action is generated. The patent agent or attorney must respond to the office action, or the patent application will become abandoned
  4. Issuance – If the response to the office action is acceptable to the examiner, or if the patent application is approved outright by the examiner, the inventor receives a Notice of Issuance. This means the patent has been allowed.

The following are generally the costs associated with filing a patent application.

  1. Patent Search – $600.00 – $1,200.00 - A required preliminary step to insure similar products do not exist before investing further in the patent application process. A professional patent search provides valuable information in writing the patent, and gives the inventor an indication of whether a patent application should be filed.
  2. Patent Application – $5,000 - $10,000 - The patent application is a legal document comprised of an abstract, a listing of related inventions, a detailed description of the invention, drawings of the invention and claims.
  3. Provisional Patent - $2,500.00 – $5,000.00 - A provisional application is an short-term alternative to a utility application. This allows the inventor to file without a formal patent claim, oath or declaration, or any information disclosure (prior art) statement. It provides the means to establish an early effective filing date, and "Patent Pending" to be applied. A provisional application must file a corresponding utility patent application for patent within 12 months. Office Action - This is a response to an objection by the patent examiner. The cost is based the amount of time required to answer the objection. The costs range from $300.00 - $1,500.00.
  4. USPTO Issuance Fee - $550.00 - $1,400.00 – The United States Patent and Trade Office charges an issuance fee once the patent application is allowed. The fees vary based upon the type of patent (Design, Utility, or Plant). This fee is due directly to the USPTO when a patent has been approved.
  5. Maintenance Fees – Currently the USPTO charges maintenance fees after the patent has been issued. The maintenance fees are due 3.5 years after the patent is issued, 7 years after the patent is issued, and 11.5 years after the patent is issued. The fees vary at the various stages, but it is important to remember that maintenance fees are the responsibility of the patent owner. Payment of the maintenance fees insures exclusivity of your patent.

Marketing your Idea
We have already said that GM will not buy your idea, so who do you turn to? Smaller companies must innovate to survive. Do research into the industry, and contact smaller or niche companies that look at individual’s ideas. Make sure you have a good non-disclosure, non-circumvent agreement, and know the size of the market. Know the margin for the products, and write a realistic business case for your idea, including the manufacturing costs, the retail price and a working prototype. Do not send ideas to companies blindly. If a company is interested, be realistic in your expectations. You may get a million dollars, but most likely you will have to settle for a modest upfront royalty payment and minimum yearly royalty payments based upon the manufacturing price of the product.


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