How To Protect Your Business Idea As A Developing Startup
Do you have a breakthrough business idea that is going to change every business game? If you do, you might want to consider getting a patent for it first before releasing it to the market and making yourself a prey towards shark investors.
If you plan to start a business with a product you invented, for sure you first want to patent it before everyone else duplicates them without your permission or without giving you due credit. Some startups choose not to patent because of the cost and the time it takes, some do otherwise but end up knowing that their idea is not necessarily patentable.
Overview of Common Patent Concerns
The most common concern in patenting is to identify whether your idea or ideas are patentable or not. The first thing you have to ask yourself is what you are trying to patent based on the USPTO standards.
You have to identify what exactly it is that you are trying to patent. Is it a machine or article of manufacture, process, chemical (composition of matter), or an improvement of these?
After identifying what you’re trying to patent, you have to figure out what kind of patent are your trying to get. There are three types of patents you can qualify yourself with; (1) Utility Patent, (2) Design Patent, and (3) Plant Patents (Green variety).
A plant patent is when you discovered or invented a way to asexually produce and reproduce a new plant variety, other than what you initially propagated. Utility patent and design patent are somehow similar, except that design patent is concerned with the appearance or design, while utility patent covers the functional aspects.
For you to further scrutinize the possibility of having patent rights for your invention, you should also know what cannot be patented, and they are:
Natural/ Physical Phenomenon involving physical properties such as matter and energy
Abstract Ideas ( If you are patenting ideas, apply clarity and identify purpose)
Perpetual motion machines which serve no purpose
Literary works ( Covered by copyright)
Anything that violates public morality
If you have indeed identified what exactly it is that you are trying to get patented, you will now move on to the next part which is to scrutinize the originality and importance of your invention.
There are four basic things that your invention has to qualify with according to the USPTO standards.
Novel- It should be new and not a resemblance of any prior invention. It also means that your invention should be original and extraordinarily different.
Non- obviousness- It should not be a common or shared idea that anyone in your field can come up with anytime. It should not be easily seen, recognized, or understood. Your invention should be a concealed or complex idea.
Documented with Clarity- It should be easily understood by anyone with ordinary skill or workable and usable by normal people or workers.
Clearly defined terms- The inventor should claim it with easily understood terminologies, especially on how it works and its parts and processes.
The novelty of your invention will be tested by a research of foreign and domestic patented products. You and your legal counsel such as a Patent Attorney or Agent can do this. Although technically, you can do this by yourself, it takes a lot of time and effort since you will have to go through an entire library of patented inventions, apart from what’s patented outside the US.
So, if this is your first time, it is better to contact an experienced patent researcher, just like what was already mentioned. If you found out your invention is patentable, then you can proceed with the examination, where another patent search shall be done by a USPTO agent as part of the official examination process.
Importance of Patent Ownership
An invention doesn’t necessarily have to be a breakthrough science invention, even if it’s just an improvement of existing inventions, it can be patented.
The importance of considering patent as a startup as you can very well tell are the rights that you alone are entitled. If you are the patent owner, you have exclusive rights to make/produce, use or sell the invention in the U.S. Do note that design and utility patents are not a lifetime, they are given to a 20- year term of exclusive rights upon the filing date.
Aside from exclusive rights, having a patent over your invention will give you higher ROIs given the fact that you were first to create such a product, you will be able to establish yourself as the original brand owner. It also gives you the right to license others to produce or sell your invention, and because you are the patent holder, negotiating over contract costs is likely to be in your favor which is a dream come true for most startups.
The patent owners also have a better image as a company because your expertise and specialization in the field means you are highly credible, which further helps you increase your business’s market value as a whole.
Contrary to what most people think, as soon as your patent is granted, it is already subject to full public disclosure and can’t be kept as a secret.
Despite the fact that it will still be released for public knowledge, later on, it is not right that you discuss specific details of your invention to potential investors. As a startup, it is understandable that you may struggle to support your business financially, but if you intend to get exclusive rights to your invention, it is safer for you to apply for a patent first before disclosing it to anyone.
The concept of novelty revolves around the premise of “prior art,” if someone else had applied for a patent with similarities to your invention before you, it would compromise your patent application. If you don’t intend to patent at all, it will jeopardize your sales later on, as some other people will take advantage of reproducing without paying for a license from you. They will make your chances of selling little, and bigger companies can reproduce it faster than you and sell it at a lower price because of their financial capabilities, which will make you lose the chance of having market share.
Also, someone else can take ownership and apply for a patent for the product they didn’t even personally invented. They can prohibit you the right to sell, reproduce and license of the invention. If not, they can ask you to pay them a licensing fee, which is, of course, entirely absurd.
But if you have no plans in patenting your invention, you can publicly disclose your invention, making it a part of public domain, which means no one can patent it anymore.
As a developing startup, your business idea is your make or break. If your invention is the only key for you to reach your goal, try to patent it. There’s nothing lose anyway.
Vincent Spivey is a passionate researcher, blogger, young entrepreneur and an inventor himself. His success as a patent owner was made possible by the help of the Livingston and Loeffler Law Firm. They are currently having a joint project of helping and educating entrepreneurs and inventors the importance of their intellectual property rights as they move towards their dreams.