There are many reasons to invest the time and money in a patent application, even though there's no guarantee you will succeed.
Here are three reasons you'll want to consider applying, even if you aren't ready to begin production.
1. The U.S. uses a "first to file" rule for patent applications.
Your company might be the first to develop a new process or product, but if you're not the first to file, you lose.
Many companies protect their priority by filing a provisional patent application. This process also allows you to use the phrase "patent pending" while giving you 12 months to finalize and test invention specifics.
"Our provisional patent application kept us under the radar since it isn't published and therefore not public. It gave us a year plus of software development without anyone knowing what we were up to," Pedroso says.
2. The required pre-filing research might help improve the invention.
Before applying, you'll need to search existing patents to make certain yours is, indeed, unique and innovative. This will reveal not only competitive products, but specifics about them, as well.
"In our case with the Sküma device, saying that we discovered many competitors would be an understatement," says Alexandre Mahe, co-founder of Sküma, a water purification device for tap water that compares to popular mineralized bottled water brands. "However, rather than being bad news, we began to analyze all technical specificities of each device, which allowed us to change our initial idea into a much more consumer-friendly product," he adds.
3. It can have a positive financial impact.
If you're looking for investor funding, you're likely to hear, "Do you have a patent for your invention?"
"In many cases for startups, the only real asset they have is their intellectual property, so if it's not properly protected, they could have nothing to fund," says attorney Marc Snyderman, chief operating officer of consulting firm Apolline Group, LLC.
A patent or patent-pending status also serves as an important marketing signal to savvy consumers.
"It shows that an idea is believed to be innovative, and that the company selling the idea is mature enough to navigate through the legal requirements of applying for patents," says Missy Narula, inventor of Diapertainment, a patent-pending diaper-changing invention.
In addition, it can make premium pricing possible and generate licensing income. "With licensing fees, you can monetize your creation by selling it to other industries or businesses that have the resources to improve it further," says Yaniv Masjedi, chief marketing officer at telecommunications company Nextiva, which owns several patents.
Proceed With Caution
Snyderman cautions inventors to make sure they'll earn enough from the invention to justify the expense of securing a patent, though. "The average costs are in the $3,500 range for a provisional patent with an additional $6,500 to $10,000 for a full patent filing," he says.
And while a patent protects your product from copycats, pursuing patent violators can be expensive. Sandy Stein, inventor of the Finders Key Purse®, learned this the hard way when imitators sold less durable versions of her product at lower prices. "I had to go after them since they were ruining my business. We won at a cost of $1.3 million. I got them out of the market, but at a huge expense that I was not anticipating," she says.
Synderman recommends consulting with experts. "There are patent filing companies and businesses developing artificial intelligence tools to search existing patents for prior art, as well as lawyers who specialize in intellectual property protection," he says.
Considering what's at stake, you'll certainly want to heed his advice.