written by: Joli Ballew•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 9/10/2011
Getting a patent through the approval process takes diligence, patience and time, often years. Here, you'll learn why it takes a little patience to complete this process and important tips on first steps to begin the process.
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What Are Patents?
A patent gives you ownership and rights related to your invention and subsequent product(s). A patent protects your invention so that others can’t create, market or sell the product without your expressed consent. Patents protect your intellectual property. Patent Pending status lets others know you've filed for a patent and are currently involved in the approval process.
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Why Get a Patent?
There are many reasons to get a patent, the first of which is to protect your invention and retain rights to it. With a patent in place, no one can infringe on your rights as the inventor of the product or the product itself. A patent is a must-have; otherwise anyone could create copies of your product and claim the invention as their own.
Additionally, if you plan to sell your invention to a third-party, the buyer will require one or all of the following:
Note: Many buyers will settle for Patent Pending status if they feel the invention is marketable, because it can take years to work through the patent approval process.
So how exactly does a patent work to protect you? First and foremost, patents are granted by a government entity, are legally binding, and allow you to own your product or invention for a set period of time. Second, patents have been around a long time, and are established and universally understood laws of the land. Finally, patents are not granted until sufficient information has been filed to fully protect all aspects of the invention. If you get a patent, your invention should be sufficiently protected.
Finally, you are protected for many years and you can sell or license the patent as you could with any asset. You also have legal recourse if someone infringes on your patented product. You can sue for royalties and damages, if desired.
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The Patent Approval Process
If you’re ready to patent your invention, you’re likely asking yourself “How long does it take to get a patent approved?" The answer to that depends on a number of factors including but not limited to, whether or not you use a patent attorney, how responsive they are, how many tries it takes to submit the proper paperwork, diagrams, illustrations, media, who has to review your application, what the waiting list is and how much time it takes to issue the approved patent.
The first thing you’ll need to do is to decide how you’re going to perform the patent search (to prove your invention is unique), what patent attorney you’ll use or how you will go about filing for the patent yourself, and who will create the required drawings and illustrations for the patent office and fill out the paperwork. Depending on your choices, expect to spend 3-6 months on these tasks.
Unfortunately, it's difficult to make decisions regarding who you will use to perform these tasks. During this process you could easily expose your invention to someone who is unscrupulous and who tries to steal your invention. You may be taken by patent lawyers for too much money and billed for too many hours. You may even be scammed by companies that claim to help you with your patent but instead, do nothing or only send you a kit of information you can find for free on the Internet or a local patent office. Whatever you do during this three to six months though, make sure you obtain a strong non-disclosure agreement, and make everyone you want to show your invention to sign it.
Note: During this process you may find out that someone else has already invented what you're trying to patent! Or, you may find something during your search that is very similar. Depending on what you're trying to patent and how similar it is to something already approved, you may decide abandon the patent acquisition process.
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The Next Year (or Two, or Three)
After performing a patent search and filing the proper paperwork, expect to wait at least a year for the review process to complete. You may receive correspondence from the patent office requiring you to send additional information. Currently, there’s a backlog at the patent office and it could take two to three years for your patent to be finalized.
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Acceptance or Denial
After the review process is complete your patent will be approved or denied. If the patent is approved, expect to wait anywhere from 3 months to a year for the issuance of the patent. Keep in touch with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office during this time; don’t let your patent get lost in the shuffle.
Bottom Line: The bottom line is that you should expect the patent process to take two to three years.
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The author's experience: It is my experience that it is difficult to get a patent for a new idea for several reasons. First, it's highly likely that a patent already exists for it. Second, even if you can't find a similar patent, there may be one in the queue ahead of yours that's just like it. Third, there are lots of scammers out there, and lots of people will claim to want to be helpful, but only end up stealing your idea. And finally, the patent office requires lots and lots of detailed drawings, schematics, and documentation, which often requires the added expense of hiring an engineer or firm to draw them.