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Obtaining a Patent for an Idea

written by: Dave Ingram•edited by: Wendy Finn•updated: 3/1/2011

Patents protect the rights of inventors and businesses to use and produce their own ideas. So how difficult is it obtaining a patent for an idea?

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    Utility patents require thorough blueprints. The United States Patent and Trademark office issues legal patent protection for proprietary ideas. Patents protect the intangible assets of inventors and businesses, by providing exclusive rights to use and manufacture patented materials. Obtaining a patent for an idea requires comprehensive documentation, and patents are only granted to ideas that fall within specific categories.

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    Types of Patents

    What is a patent? There are four distinct types of ideas that can be patented: utility, design, plant and provisional.

    A utility patent is granted for mechanical inventions that serve specific functions. The design of the mechanical component is the patentable idea for this type.

    A design patent provides protection for the aesthetics applied to a specific item. Design patents are different than trademarks. trademarked designed can be applied in a wide range of situations, whereas design patents only apply when used on a specified item. For example, a brand logo for a skateboard company would require a trademark for protection, but a unique design on a specific model of skateboard would require a design patent.

    Plant patents are granted to horticulturalists who devise new hybrid or mutant plant species. Artificially-crafted plant species must fall into strict categories to be eligible for a patent.

    Provisional patents provide temporary protection for any of the three types listed above. Provisional patents are good for one year, and can be ideal for patenting ideas that are still in works, which are likely to be shared among external stakeholders during the planning phase. Obtaining a patent for an idea early in the planning stage can protect you from competitors' stealing your idea.

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    Patent Documentation

    All patent applications must be accompanies by a thorough, written description of the idea and exactly what makes it unique from similar ideas. For mechanical patents, applicants must include detailed blueprints or layouts of how the mechanical components function, as well as a description of the purpose the components serve. Photos, or videos of working prototypes, also help in securing mechanical patents.

    Photos and visual representations are required for all design patents. Photos must show the design on the item to which it will be applied, and must be accompanied by a description of the design's relationship to the item.

    Plant patents must be accompanied by detailed notes on the genetic individuality of the new species, in addition to a range of photos clearly showing the plant's uniqueness.

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    Patent Application

    Getting a patent for an idea can be accomplished online through the USPTO's user-friendly website. All required application forms and other documentation you need can be found at through the Patent and Trademark Office's EFS-Web system. Scan any paper documents that you have compiled to verify your claims of originality before logging on. You can file a patent application without registering on the USPTO's website, but a quick registration allows filers to access information about your application online at any time in the future.

    Follow the link at the end of this article to begin the patent application process. First, select the option to begin the application process as a registered or unregistered filer. In the application window, fill in your personal information, then select the type of patent you would like to apply for. On the next screen, upload any documents you've scanned to accompany your application. All uploaded documents must be in text or PDF format. After reviewing your information and documents on the next screen, enter your payment information and confirm the application. You have now made the first steps in obtaining a patent for an idea.

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    USPTO: EFS-Web Patent Application System

    USPTO: Process for Obtaining a Utility Patent,

    Patent Law Portal: Patent Types,

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