Innovation is so important in product development but never forget that the devil is in the details. Forgetting to protect intellectual property is one of those blunders that can make or break a business, but the patent application process itself is also riddled with opportunities for error. Get it right the first time and you can move forward confident that your ideas are protected. Get it wrong and you might find yourself on the wrong side of a patent infringement case.
There are plenty of potential pitfalls when it comes to patents but what follows are the seven mistakes that you absolutely don’t want to make.
1. Under-Developing an Otherwise Good Idea
Having an invention does not make you automatically eligible to receive a patent. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) patents products that solve problems or serve a practical, demonstrable purpose. In other words if you haven’t yet considered the point of your invention, now is the time.
Answering this question will serve you well when you’re ready to file a patent application because you will need to provide a clear and exacting description of your invention that not only identifies its function, but also its benefits and what the patent protections should cover.
2. Rushing Your Research
The US patent database is intimidating due to its sheer size and so you may be tempted to put off patent research until later in the product development process. But research always takes time and it makes sense to begin your patent search early so you don’t risk investing too much into a less than fresh idea.
The good news is that it’s easy to conduct a patent search in house because the USPTO has created a clear seven-step patent search process that makes it relatively painless to navigate through a database of patents that date back to the 1700s.
3. Dragging Your Feet
Many product developers are unaware that they can begin the process of protecting a new product without making a formal patent filing and so they miss out on the opportunity to file early – or to file at all! Waiting too long may result in your rights to your invention being automatically forfeited.
A provisional patent application must be filed within 12 months after a product is first sold or used publicly, and then an inventor has another year to convert the provisional application to a non-provisional application or to file a separate patent application.
4. Forgetting Form Because you’re Focused on Function
When you’re filing a patent application it’s easy to spend a great deal of time talking about what your product does, but focusing too much on function can lead to a patent application that’s incomplete or unclear. Don’t assume that a functional description can take the place of structural descriptions.
The strongest patent applications present an unambiguous description of an invention – from the components that make up the product to their configuration as well as how it operates and why it is necessary.
5. Failing to Think Outside of the Box
Just because you developed your product with a specific function in mind doesn’t mean that it can’t be used in other ways. Filing a patent application without considering the many ways your product can be monetized makes you vulnerable to others who might file for uses you never imagined.
Think broadly when you’re considering what problems your product solves or what its practical applications are. You may discover additional utilities or a way your invention might be useful in another field, and these can be added to your patent application.
6. Missing Out on Opportunities
Did you know that a product doesn’t have to be 100% unique to be patentable? Products that improve upon current patented technology or combine existing technologies to make something new can also be patented.
Combination patents tend to be more difficult to obtain but it’s not impossible, especially when your idea is novel. Working with a patent attorney is helpful in instances when you’re not entirely sure that your product will be eligible for a patent.
7. Forgetting Non-Disclosure and Non-Compete Agreements
Patent applications take a long time to go through and in the meantime you’re vulnerable to third parties who want to monetize a similar product or create a competing business with your invention.
Non-disclosure and non-compete agreements are the easiest ways to protect your idea as you seek outside investments or add people to your team. Use an NDA any time you share sensitive information about your product in the period before your receive patent approval.