A post from our student blogger Megan
“So I made this thing…and I was wondering,” or “I came up with this great idea, what should I do with it?” When I tell people for the first time that I am a patent attorney, these are the kinds of curious inquiries I typically encounter. These are great questions and the “lawyer answer” that I normally give is, “it depends.” See, there are two types of inventors. First, there are large-scale inventing entities such as corporations or research institutions that hire those who have skill in a particular art to create new ideas and ultimately obtain patent protection. Second, there are independent inventors who think of new concepts and jot them down on a napkin or work on them inside their garage. Both types of inventors are well-represented globally with respect to issued patents. There are, however, some very important concepts that independent inventors need to understand before diving into the patent process. We’ll briefly explore some of these ideas below but when in doubt it is always best to seek the assistance of a patent attorney or agent.
One of the first things to consider when filing a patent application is what a patent will provide an inventor. A common misconception is that a patent will allow an inventor the right to make and sell the invention freely. In fact, according to federal statutory law 35 United States Code § 154, a patent will not allow an inventor to do anything of the sort, but in reality it gives the “right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States.” Along the same lines, potential patent seekers must note that the grant of a patent does not guarantee automatic financial gain. During his capacity as the director of the Office of Public Affairs for the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, Richard Maulsby, stated that “[t]here are around 1.5 million patents in effect and in force in this country, and of those, maybe 3,000 are commercially viable.” Besides merely applying for protection of an invention, marketing, licensing, and maintaining a patent are incredibly important decisions to plan out for anyone who wishes to seriously patent and then attempt to make a profit from an invention.
Another important thing for the independent inventor to consider when applying for a patent are the multitude of obstacles that he or she faces during patent prosecution. Patent prosecution is the procedure of drafting an application, submitting it to the Patent & Trademark Office, going through a likely series of rejections, and possible appeal, all through a likely lengthy wait time. At the time of filing a patent application, the applicant must certify that his or her application is enabling, or a person having ordinary skill in the art is capable of making the invention as it is described in the application. The applicant must also show that the invention itself is novel, or new, and non-obvious. Application reviewers, or examiners, at the Patent & Trademark Office will look over an application to make sure that all of the aforementioned criteria is met. Normally, examiners reject applications on the basis that the applicant has not fulfilled his or her obligation of enablement, novelty, or non-obviousness, or for a variety of other rejections. The applicant may respond to these rejections and thus a lengthy process of back-and-forth communication with the Patent & Trademark Office begins. According to Patent & Trademark Office statistics in 2013, the average length of prosecution time was 18.2 months. Many prosecutions, however, go well into several years in length.
Independent inventors must be aware of the obstacles that they face when endeavoring toward a patent. However, they must also consider the great benefits of doing so as well. There are thousands of inventors who happily report their successes that originally stemmed from a patented invention. Just ask Qualcomm company leaders. Qualcomm is a technology innovator that boasts claim to over 13,000 patents. Qualcomm treats patents like prizes and proudly displays them for the entire world to see on their famous wall of patents located at their headquarters in San Diego, California. Patenting may be a long and arduous process but it is worth it for many. And remember, “he who doesn’t take risks, doesn’t drink champagne. –Russian proverb.