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How many times have you watched an “infomercial” on television and said to yourself that you could have come up with the idea for the product being sold? Maybe you even have an idea or two floating around in your head already and want to know how you can protect that idea so that you can eventually start making money off of it. In short, you want to know how to protect your concept with a patent.

Unfortunately, you can’t.

Abstract ideas are not subject to patent protection; inventions are. In order to get a patent, you need to take a number of steps to turn your general concept into something more concrete and capable of being built. You also need to demonstrate to the United States Patent and Trademark Office that your invention is unique in the marketplace and deserves protection from being copied. So what do you need to do to get a patent?

1. Turn your idea into reality

The first thing you need to do is to take your concept and use it to come up with a specific product, process or machine (or an improvement on an existing one). For example, let’s say you have an idea for a new mousetrap that attracts mice using the scent of food. That idea, on its own, is not subject to patent protection.  Instead, you need to describe exactly what such a mousetrap looks like and how it would work using detailed drawings, models or, best of all, a prototype of your invention.

2. Research “prior art”

You cannot get a patent for an invention or process that is already protected. Therefore, it is extremely important that you research what is called “prior art” to see what other similar products have been patented. You can search for prior art on the U.S. Patent Office website, but it can be difficult to know if you have performed a full search.  If you are serious about patenting your idea, and don’t have a lot of experience with the patent process, it may be a good idea to use the services of a patent attorney to assist in your prior art research to be sure that you’re research has been through.

3. Differentiate your product

Once you have found all of the prior art related to your product, if any, you need to figure out what makes your invention unique. Sometimes, you may discover that only parts of your invention are different enough to deserve patent protection. In such a case, you can either seek patent protection for only the specific parts of your invention that are unique, or else go back to the drawing board and try to come up with a truly new product that has not been patented before.

4. Apply for the patent          

Whether or not you’re using a patent attorney to aid you with the technicalities of this step, the last thing you need to do is to actually apply for the patent by filing a patent application with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

Hopefully, the process will end with you being the proud holder of a brand new patent for your brilliant idea!

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Posted by Jennifer Motian

Jennifer Motian contributes writing to Red Chalk Group, an international company that specializes in intellectual property management.  When she’s not working, she likes doing yoga and seeing as much live music as she possibly can.

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