There are two theories on obtaining patents on your invention. The first, which I will discuss here, operates on the theory that you chronicle your work and protect it vigilantly through the proper channels.
An equally-popular theory is that having a patent means only that you will spend a fortune defending that patent. To that end, this group supports doing the bare minimum in terms of official patent work, but getting out of the gate with the best marketing program. The idea on this is that people de-engineer products, add a twist or change just enough, then make their own product that is similar.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the traditional thoughts on obtaining a patent. Even for the traditionalist, if you leaf through any stack of inventing books, you’re bound to find a few dedicated to the inventor who wishes to use the do-it-yourself method of patenting an invention. While a professional inventor may know his way around the patenting process, it would be wise for the amateur to remember the adage, “The man who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
Once you know the ropes a bit, you can file for the copyright and occasional trademark on your own. Generally speaking, however, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t get advice from a professional. Most patent lawyers find the do-it-yourself method as penny-pinching of the worst kind.
You can save time and money by being an informed shopper. You can research patent lawyers online at directories like BCLawyers.ca. Once you have a few names, compare. Just because a patent lawyer comes highly recommended by a fellow inventor does not mean that lawyer is the right one for you. Check your needs against the qualifications of the lawyer to see if you are a match.
Make an initial appointment to ask questions and get a general feel for the lawyer to see if you like his or her style and manner of doing business. Ask the lawyer for references from clients, and then check those recommendations. You should also ask the lawyer if any complaints have been filed by clients, and check those out. Rapport is a prime consideration. No matter how good a lawyer is, if you can’t communicate with that person and if he or she doesn’t seem to understand your needs, you’d do well to look elsewhere.
Finding a Perfect Match
Aside from your initial gut feelings about an lawyer, there are a few concrete matters to consider: specialization, fees and location, for example. Patent lawyers, like everyone else, have specialties. Ut would be wise to see if your invention matches the lawyer’s background.
If the lawyer is not an expert in your particular field, but you share a good rapport, you may still want to stick with him or her. After all, if the lawyer is part of a firm made up of patent lawyers from several specialties, your lawyer will be able to get the specialized advice he or she needs to represent you.
Convenience plays a role in choosing a patent lawyer, just as it would in any other purchase, but it shouldn’t be the overriding concern. Nowadays, many law firms set up liaisons and correspondents in other parts of the country. And with express mail and fax machines, immediate attention is possible, regardless of location.
Plan of Attack
Before you set up that first meeting, clarify your goals. Don’t call a patent lawyer the morning you wake up with a good idea. That’s just wasting the lawyer’s time and your money. Analyze your product to determine who is going to buy it and why. Where will you sell it? The more questions you ask and more goals you determine, the more focused you will be in preparing your final patent application.
When you have chosen your lawyer and you are ready to discuss your invention at length, take advantage of the lawyer’s thorough knowledge of the patent process. So much of this beginning process is about education. Think of the basics: What is a patent? What are some of the expenses? What are some of the pitfalls and frustrations?
One patent lawyer asks that on the first working meeting the inventor bring a rough sketch, as well as a written description no more than two pages long, though the final written application may run up to 100 pages. Again, you want to maximize your time and money. Few inventions take more than two pages to put down roughly. More than that gets cumbersome. Moreover, it shows that perhaps you haven’t narrowed your thoughts down enough. It’s a matter of goal setting and honing your ideas to the necessary pinpoint.
From there, the patent lawyer should conduct a patent search to see if any aspect of your invention has been previous patented. By now the lawyer should be able to give you a strong opinion on your invention. But wait: That opinion is qualified. The lawyer should only offer an opinion based on the patentability of the invention. Do not expect a lawyer to give you a person opinion as to the marketability of your project. In fact, it is not appropriate for a patent lawyer to offer these opinions. After all, this has nothing to do with getting a patent, and that’s your patent lawyer’s job.
Even if you cannot obtain a broad patent on your invention, you are generally able to get a patent for a certain aspect of the invention —the way a hook is configured, for example, or the way a hinge is used.
Testing the Waters
Now it may be time to enter the final phase: the patent application process. Your patent lawyer does all of the filing and paperwork it takes to get your invention patented. Use the time period until then to test the waters and see if the invention has a market. It gives you a little more information, and information is the best thing you can have.
The final application filing has special meaning for the inventor. In a big way you are saying: “No trespassing allowed!”