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Start Your Business Startup Basics

How to File a Patent

How to File a Patent
Credit: relif/Shutterstock

The brassiere, the toaster and the "compact hand-held video game system," better known as the Game Boy, all have something in common: They're patented. The designs for these everyday items are protected from copycats, thereby maximizing the inventions' commercial value.

If you're creating a new product, you may want to consider filing a patent of your own. Obtaining a patent may not be simple, but is an important step for driven inventors who want to protect their ideas.

"You have to decide whether the idea is worth investing in," said Brett Strouss, former president of the American Society of Inventors and current chief visionary at Visionary Technologies.

Industry estimates indicate that only 1 to 3 percent of all patents recoup costs, Strouss said, and according to a 2005 statement from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, only 0.2 percent of patents are "commercially viable." Though the statistics can seem like a deterrent, there are pathways to success. Once you've conducted a thorough patent search to make sure your idea doesn't already belong to someone else, here's what you need to know about applying for your patent. [How to Turn Your Idea Into a Product]

A patent attorney will optimize thepatent application. Wording and detail of thepatent process will later affect how the patent will be enforced. Theaverage person who's not well-versed in patent law may not know how to take advantage of loopholes during this process. A patent lawyer's expertise will help you reach your goals.

Lisa Adams, a patent attorney at Mintz Levin law firm, estimated that the cost of a patent application with an attorney's help is between $5,000 and $20,000 (depending on the complexity of the invention). Retaining a lawyer will be an investment worth the initial cost, if you can afford it — hiring a patent attorney to assist with the application can potentially save thousands or, in some cases, millions of dollars in legal fees and battles down the road.

"Terminology is everything," Adams said in a 2010 Business News Daily interview. "Anything you say in a patent application can and will come back to haunt you."

A good patent lawyer can also help you build an intellectual property strategy that goes beyond the application, she said.

If you're on a tight budget, you may prefer to file for your patent without the help of an attorney. It's not uncommon to file solo; many inventors successfully filedapplications and moved forward in the process.

To file a patent without the help of an attorney, contact the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) directly, as they will often provide extra assistance to those unaided by a lawyer. The patent office also offers a variety of online resources you can use to educate yourself before applying. Depending on the size of your entity and your specific applications, fees for self-filing can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

Alternatively, you can apply for a patent online through the USPTO website to receive a discount. The applications are now more streamlined and efficient than ever. Simply fill out and submit the online form with all of the required information. Be prepared to provide your personal information, as well as the product you would like to patent. The application requires a written description, a drawing of the product and possibly additional materials.

Regardless of which path you take, absorb as much information on the process as possible. Confirm that your idea has not been patented, find the correct lawyer, and be prepared for applications and fees.

For further information on filing a patent, visit the following websites:

Additional reporting by Patrick Egan.

Shannon Gausepohl
Shannon Gausepohl

Shannon Gausepohl graduated from Rowan University in 2012 with a degree in journalism. She has worked at a newspaper and in the public relations field, and is currently a staff writer at Business News Daily. Shannon is a zealous bookworm, has her blue belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, and loves her Blue Heeler mix, Tucker.