WHAT WILL A PATENT DO FOR ME?
First of all – it will not make you rich. Sure, there have been people that have accumulated great wealth
from new ideas, but there are also people that have won the super jackpot lotteries. Have you ever met
any of them? Well, I have not. I suspect that the odds are better for winning one of those big lotteries than
for making a killing with a patent.
Large companies do not buy ideas from outside inventors. That is what they pay their many engineers to
do, and outside inventors are more likely to sue the company than come up with a valuable idea. Many
years ago I saw an article that said the automobile companies received 300, 000 “invention” letters a year.
It would take an enormous staff to just evaluate that many ideas. Most companies send back a rejection
letter of some sort. Some are honest and just say that they do not accept ideas from outside, and some
send back a letter that includes an agreement you must sign. The agreement says you are giving them the
idea free and clear and they can pay you or not pay you as they see fit. It is not that they are trying to get
the idea free. Rather, it is that they want legal protection if you have suggested an invention that someone
in the company is already working on. One other type letter sent out is that they will only consider
patented inventions. That is because they would then know exactly what they can and can not do without
paying for it, but it also probably means “Go talk to a patent attorney and let him talk you out of it.”
So what good does a patent do? Probably nothing UNLESS you are in business or about to start a
business for selling the product. The fact is that in our world you can sell things, but you can not sell
ideas. Selling an idea is sort of like trying to sell a lottery ticket for a highly inflated price before the lottery
Even for the small business, a patent does not really do what most people think it does, because suing
someone for copying your patented invention costs way too much for most of us to be able to start such a
law action. The true benefits from a patent, and even a patent application (a patent pending), are more
subtle, but they are real. One benefit is credibility in the marketplace. Listen carefully to TV commercials,
and you will occasionally hear the mention that a product is patented. That is because most people have
the impression that a patent somehow means that the product has the “blessing” of the U.S. Government.
Actually, the only thing the U.S. Patent Office has decided is that it is different, not that it is better.
Another benefit is very real, that a patent, and particularly a “patent pending”, makes the competition
hesitate about copying the product. That is because, for at least 18 months, the patent application is
confidential, and nobody can find out just what it covers. That means that a competitor that copies the
product could end up being sued, and in the business world such an added risk is usually enough to keep
the competition at bay at least until the patent issues and they know what is protected. This discussion
should make it apparent why I sincerely believe that, unless you are already selling a product or about to
start selling it, a patent is not very valuable.
Another aspect of U.S. patent law is worth noting. In the U.S. (and not in any other countries) you can still
file a patent application for one year after you have first offered the invention for sale, used it publicly, or
distributed a written publication. In practical terms, that means you can put the product on the market first
and test market it to see if it is worth patenting. Just keep in mind that it takes several months for most
patent attorneys to prepare an application, so you probably have only about eight months to make the
decision about a patent.
Please contact this office if this brings up any questions.
MARTIN FRUITMAN for PATENTS
(888) 7MY- IDEA
[(888) 769 - 4332]