We are frequently asked this question by innovators and entrepreneurs who aren’t certain whether their idea actually qualifies for a patent. Or, they are concerned that they haven’t done enough work on their idea to get a patent. For example, they ask “Can I patent my idea?” Or, “What can be patented.” To answer this question, we’ll tackle a few myths that keep popping up.
MYTH #1- YOU NEED TO BUILD A PROTOTYPE BEFORE YOU CAN GET A PATENT
You can patent your idea without a working prototype. You don’t even need a proof of concept. Indeed, for software and hardware, all you need is design with enough details. What’s enough details? Enough information that someone who understands the technological area of your idea could understand how to build and use it. So how to get a patent for an idea essentially starts with having enough details for others to be able to picture it actually working.
The single exception to the ‘no-prototype’ rule is if you want patent a perpetual motion machine. Weird, I know.
Actually if you do come up with a perpetual motion machine that works, we’d like to see a working prototype too (and know how you managed to violate the laws of physics)!
MYTH #2- YOU JUST NEED AN IDEA TO GET A PATENT
While you can patent your idea without a working prototype or even a proof of concept, you do need to have a good design for your idea. The design provides the details described above, so that others can build and use your idea.
But why does that matter? It matters because a patent represents an exchange between you, the innovator, and the public. The public wants all of the details of your innovation. You, understandably, don’t want the public to steal your idea- so you might decide to keep your idea under trade secret protection (like the Coca-Cola recipe).
A patent represents a balance between these 2 competing desires. The US Patent and Trademark Office, representing the the public, incentivizes you and other innovators to file a patent by granting you a monopoly right to the idea protected by the patent. In exchange, you have to give enough details so that others can understand your innovation- and build on it for the future.
So if you just have an idea- without any details- you aren’t holding up your end of the bargain. Getting a patent requires you to provide enough details so that others can make and use your idea.
MYTH #3- GETTING A PATENT IS TOO EXPENSIVE FOR A STARTUP
Actually getting a patent doesn’t have to be expensive. For one thing, as we discussed in our post on “How To Get A Patent”, the process takes several years. During that time, you will only need to pay for various stages intermittently, so that the total cost doesn’t land on you all at once.
You can also get your foot in the door of the patent process. You can file a provisional patent by filing a provisional application. The provisional application won’t become a patent, but it gives you one year to raise enough money (or refine your idea enough) to continue the process.
For more information about patent filing fees and getting your patent started, check out our price list.
MYTH 4- YOU CAN GET A PATENT FOR ANYTHING
You can only get a patent on an idea that meets the high patent quality standards set forth by the USPTO.
One really important standard to meet is the patentable category. Any discussion of what can be patented starts with whether the idea falls into a category of ideas that can be patented. Yes- there is a list.
Some examples of idea categories that can be patented include software, hardware, electronic devices, mechanical devices, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, etc.
Some examples of idea categories that cannot be patented include names, logos, videos, images, songs, books and so forth.
Ready to get started? Click here and we’ll help you get your idea ready to patent!