A good idea—even a great idea—is not enough to file a patent application. For a strong patent application, you need time to develop a novel, non-obvious, and useful invention. Creating a product, service, or process that meets these criteria doesn’t happen overnight. Knowing exactly when to patent an idea is not easy. And every situation is different, depending on your invention, competitors, market, goals, and many other factors. To determine when to patent, consider these five questions:
1. Is your idea novel?
In order to be granted a patent, your idea and resulting invention must be novel and non-obvious. In order to determine whether or not your idea is eligible for a patent, it’s important to complete a thorough review of relevant prior art. Using an advanced patent search tool like IP.com’s InnovationQ® helps you find similar inventions and uncover competitive intelligence.
2. Is your idea complete?
The USPTO uses a first-to-file system, giving an advantage to the first inventor to file a patent application for a specific technology. This means that filing early is important. However, if you file so early that your idea is incomplete, you will likely not be granted a patent. If you are, it’s possible that your patent doesn’t protect your end product because your idea has changed over time. Keep in mind the enablement requirement as well, which requires that someone is able to replicate your invention from your claims alone. If you file too early, you may not meet this condition.
3. Do you need to move quickly?
In some situations, you may not have time to complete testing or market research before requiring patent protection. When used correctly, provisional patent applications can give you some security without the need to draft in-depth claims or utilize large amounts of capital. When ideas are solidified after determining and sourcing materials, manufacturing, and even marketing, you can file a traditional patent application. Deciding when to file a provisional patent application is made easier thanks to the ability to combine multiple applications submitted within a 12-month period.
4. Is your industry highly competitive?
Organizations operating in highly competitive or quickly changing industries may find their patents obsolete before bringing their innovation to market. In this case, delaying your patent application until production is about to start may be reasonable. This allows for your patent application to be as close to your final product as possible. It also limits the ability of competitors to begin designing around your patent before your product hits the market.
5. Have you publicly disclosed your idea?
It’s important to remember that once your product is disclosed or sold to the public, you only have 12 months to file a patent application. If your patent application does not align with the product you publicized in any way, your product is not protected by your application. Knowing when to patent your idea means understanding when you want or need to share it.