If you ask a lawyer the answer is, "patent your idea, protect it, make it yours." If you ask an engineer, he will say, "start designing, developing, and testing". But what is the right answer? This is really a question of - what is your business's budget and short term goals? If funds are not a problem, I would say do both at the same time, but for the start-up or an independent entrepreneur on a shoe string budget, the answer lies somewhere in-between.
THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE PATENTING
1. Are you in need of investment?
If the answer is yes, than a full patent filing should be on the back burner and not the priority. It is rare that a patent will grab an investor's attention so you are better off paying for the development of a prototype rather than a legal piece of paper. Don't force your benefactors to use their imagination on how great the product or idea is, it is best to let them see and feel it first hand. It is rare that a patent is able to secure investment when no product demos are available. If you are still nervous that you need some protection, and you have a few extra bucks, explore a provisional patent filing.
2. Will my idea get stolen?
In my experience, most people are not thieves. In fact, most people are interesting in helping a start-up get traction. Kickstarter is a great example of how people love the start-up. Letting as many people know about your idea could lead to finding a valuable resource for your start-up.
Launching a new idea or product is all about great implementation of a product design, manufacturing at the right cost, great marketing, timing, and a little bit of luck. Chances are, you have some but not all of those ingredients, so getting the word out will help refine your sales approach and may provide a valuable resource or future sale for your idea.
3. So I should tell everyone?
Yes and no... Assuming your idea is more complex than pounding nails (no offense to nail pounders), Most people do not have all the resources or contacts needed to launch your idea, in that case, you need not to worry about them stealing your idea. In the rare case that you find someone with all the ingredients necessary to implement your idea, chances are, they are doing their own thing. With all that said, there are some rare cases where your lips should be sealed.
A WORD OF CAUTION! -
4. Who should I guard my idea from?
Do not tell a person / firm who has a market position in your potential industry unless you have a patent and enough money to defend it. Here is an example - A friend of mine pitched a new idea for eye wear to Oakley Sunglasses Company (now Luxottica). In the meeting they told him his idea was terrible, and no deal was made. Within 4 months, he seen his exact product being sold by Oakley. Basically he gave a company that is best positioned to capitalize on a new type of eye wear a great idea and no reason to credit, fund, or utilize him to product it. Oakley had all the engineers, manufacturing, marketing, and positioning to get his idea to marked faster than him.
5. Is it ever too early to share my un-patented idea?
Absolutely. Once an idea goes public, you have a year to start some sort of filing before the idea is officially public information and therefore not patentable. If you can't get something filed in a year, do not pitch it.
6. A patent is only as good as your ability to defend it.
Court fees, depositions, expert witnesses, and lawyers are not cheep and always take way too much time. Remember that to your benefit.
7. Patents are valuable, but not 100% fool proof protection.
I like to say that a patent is like a chain link fence. It keeps out the lazy, uninformed, and cautious, but the young and fearless may just climb over it with innovation and creativity.
8. Provisional patents can be used to lock in protection without the expense of a full filling.
Although a provisional will expired in a year unless converted to a full patent, they are useful to lock in a date when the invention was conceived and protect your idea. Provisionals are fairly straight forward to file, and they provide you with a Patent Pending status.
There are some secrets to filing a effective provisional. We can help you navigate this process or even extend the usefulness of a provisional patent. For more details -
Coaction Staff Writers