Educational Consumer Tips
Better Business Bureau
Patenting Your Invention
The first patent law was enacted in 1790. The law now in effect is a general revision which was enacted July 19, 1952, and which came into effect January 1, 1953. It is codified in Title 35, United States Code. The law provides that an inventor may obtain a patent on any new and useful art, process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, or a distinct and new variety of plant a sexual produced. The inventor may obtain a patent provided the invention was not previously known or used in this country and has not been patented or described in any printed publication in this or a foreign country more than a year prior to the application for patent, and has not been abandoned. Another provision in the patent law gives protection to any new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.
The patent is issued in the name of the United States under the seal of the Patent and Trademark Office. A patent gives the inventor the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention in the U.S. for the full term of the patent, which is seventeen years for the ordinary patent and fourteen for the design patent. After the patent has expired, anyone may make, use or sell the invention without permission of the patentee, provided that matter covered by other unexpired patents is not used. If you or an agent representing you describes your invention in a printed publication, or uses the invention publicly or places it on sale, you must apply for a patent within one year or you will lose your chance to obtain a patent.
To help protect an idea before patenting, it helps for the inventor to keep a step-by-step, witnessed record from the birth of the idea until the time the patent is granted. Also, inventors may file a Disclosure Document with the Patent and Trademark Office for a small fee. Disclosure Documents should be filed in duplicate, so one copy can be returned to the inventor after date stamping and numbering. These disclosures are kept in a confidential file for two years, subject to the patent application being filed. If no application is filed, the documents are destroyed. A Disclosure Document does not secure a patent right and is not a substitute for a patent application, but may serve as evidence of the conception of the described invention. A brochure describing the Disclosure Document Program may be obtained from the Patent Office (address is listed at the end of this report).
An investigation known as "Search of Prior Art" or preliminary search should be conducted by or on behalf of the inventor to determine whether an invention is likely to be patentable. The U.S. Patent Office has copies of all U.S. patents and has files and bound volumes of most foreign patents, trade and technical publications, etc. dealing with technology. Many large public libraries have copies of U.S. patents. (Inventors may conduct their own patent search. However, the quality and accuracy of the patent search determines its worth. It is usually best to employ a patent attorney or patent agent who is registered to practice before the U.S. Patent Office to conduct such searches.)
The patent application comprises a specification, oath, filing fee and drawing (when the invention can be illustrated). The specification is a written description of the invention which must conclude with one or more claims specifically defining what the inventor believes to be his/her invention. Drawing must be executed in accordance with the standards specified in the Patent Office rules. Upon request, the Patent Office itself may make drawings at cost when facilities are available. However, it is expected that applicants will furnish their own formal drawings in most instances. Directions of a general nature are available in a pamphlet issued by the Patent Office entitled, "General Information Concerning Patents." If the application is complete the Patent Office assigns a serial number and filing date to it indicating that it has been accepted for examination. Some skilled inventors prepare their own application, but usually a stronger patent can be obtained by employing a registered patent attorney or agent.
The Patent Office publishes a directory of "Attorneys and Agents Registered to Practice Before the U.S. Patent Office" arranged by states and countries. Listings are also available from local patent law associations or may be found in a local classified telephone directory. The fees charged by attorneys and agents for preparing, filing and prosecuting a patent application vary according to the time required, which depends to a large extent on the nature of the invention, and the extent and complexity of the prosecution after examination. The Patent Office does not regulate or set the fees charged by patent attorneys and agents.
There are various filing and maintenance fees for small entities (independent inventors, small businesses, or non-profit organizations) and other entities. "Patent Processing "Fees" (form PTO-442), a listing of all fees, is available from the Patent and Trademark Office and should be consulted for the current fee structure.
If a patent is challenged, the patent is presumed to be valid and the burden of proof is on the challenger - not the owner of the patent. The strength of a patent is governed by the scope of its claims and the willingness of third parties to obtain licenses or to avoid infringement of the protected subject matter.
Only attorneys and agents who are registered with and recognized by the United States Patent Office are permitted to represent you to file a patent application. The Patent Office regulations do not permit companies to offer these services directly to you. Thus, if you are interested in pursuing a patent application, you may do so on your own or you must retain a patent attorney or agent to represent you. Some invention development companies refer their clients to a patent attorney or agent.
Invention Promotion and Development
Inventors should carefully investigate before paying advance fees to individuals or companies that promise to make patent searches, obtain patents, evaluate ideas or inventions, determine marketability, or arrange for the manufacture or sale of patented products. Some individuals or companies prepare an initial evaluation which may make promising remarks of an invention's patentability, merit and salability in the marketplace. Since some of these persons sell further services for higher fees than the initial services you should realize that these persons may use an incentive to paint a positive picture to the inventor.
Regardless of who you elect to assist in developing or promoting your invention, we suggest that you obtain documentation of their track record, for instance, how many of their clients actually made money on their inventions. Be cautious if the company indicates that it has been successful in placing numerous inventions with manufacturers or that it has special relationships with major corporations, but cannot or will not identify the inventions or manufacturers or substantiate such relationships. You may also wish to check customer references provided by the company. Be wary if the company evaluates your idea without determining if it is truly marketable, technically feasible, or without estimating the cost to produce the invention.
Inventors should assure themselves that the portion of any fees they pay to any persons or companies relating to patent matters will be held in escrow and/or immediately paid to the patent attorney or agent. Patent and other services offered by any patent attorney or invention development firm and all fees or potential fees should be clearly understood. You should carefully read and understand the terms of any written agreement, get all promises and guarantees in writing, and, if possible, have the agreement reviewed by legal counsel. Inventors can lose money and time, and can jeopardize the patent rights of their invention if choosing to promote it without protecting the patent rights of the invention.
It should be understood that the purchase of services relating to the development of a new product is a high risk expenditure, and there is no guarantee that a profit will result. Very few ideas or inventions are eventually produced and marketed successfully. Few inventors recover their costs of developing their inventions, and few even recover the costs of services provided by invention development firms. Inventors should also be aware that not every invention or idea is patentable, nor, even if patentable, would result in a patent that would provide the inventor with much protection against infringement.
Some states have specific laws regulating invention development companies. The laws usually require the company to report on its number and percentage of successful clients - those who have made more money from their idea than what they paid to the invention development firm. In addition, the statutes may require that a bond be posted so that if the company goes out of business or misrepresents its services, refunds could be given to clients.
If there is a local inventors' club or society, it may be able to provide you with the experiences of its club members.
There are some state, city, and county organizations established for the purpose of promoting the growth of business and industry in their areas. Such programs are generally listed under the government sections of the telephone directory or may be listed with the Chamber of Commerce.
Contact Better Business Bureau where a specific invention development company is located and your local or state consumer protection offices for information concerning any company with which you are considering doing business. These offices can also advise you of any state regulations concerning the invention promotion industry.
Other information regarding patents and trademarks may be obtained from the Office of Information Services, Patent and Trademark Office, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C. 20231. That office advises BBB that it does not have information on specific companies and does not make recommendations regarding invention promotion firms.About the Author: Rachel Gelb is Communications and Marketing Manager for BBB serving Eastern Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont. Find Rachel on Google +.
Questions and Comments
Question Submitted 3/18/2013
I want to know what patent company in Michigan that have bbb approval.
BBB's Answer:You can go to bbb.org and search the Accredited Business Directory.
Comment Submitted 9/29/2013
I have an idea I would like to patent. I was told to write a proposal, who do I actually write the proposal to. Thank you..
Comment Submitted 5/4/2015
Do you recommend going straight to a company with an idea without getting a patent? Is it necessary to get one? Am pretty sure there is a great need for this product and know that there isn't anything like it out there, but getting it patented might be challenging since it's broad based... Is it risky?
Question Submitted 5/19/2015
Please provide me with a list of invention companies in the USA that take an invention from idea to production and to the market place that are bbb approved. Thank you. *** **************
BBB's Answer:You can find a list of BBB Accredited Businesses at http://www.bbb.org/boston/Accredited-Business-Guide/
Comment Submitted 8/13/2015
I want to submit an idea to a patent company, and I want to present them with a professional draft illustration. Who can I contact that is not too pricey, yet is a good company with a good track record?
Question Submitted 1/26/2016
i wanted to patent something in Ma.can you tell me exactly where to do that? Also,can you suggest any patent attornys in Ma? Thank you
This link should be able to assist you.
Views expressed on this page are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Better Business Bureau.
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