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Recently, patents, and the entire patent system, have been synonymous with reform. However, the truth remains that patents are a critical factor for sustainable success. Whether you are at the helm of a startup that plans on crowdfunding a product or a SME working on a new and innovative technology, securing and protecting your intellectual property (IP) rights to that invention is key to successful commercialization.
Patents, copyrights and trademarks are all forms of intellectual property. For the purpose of this piece, patents — particularly design and utility patents — will be the focus of the conversation. While all three types of IP are indeed essential for success, hardware-focused products rely heavily on patents. Before we delve into commercialization let’s quickly review what exactly a patent is.
Patent. A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). U.S. patent grants are effective only within the United States, U.S. territories, and U.S. possessions. There are three types of patents: utility, design and plant patents.
There is nothing more time consuming and resource draining than filing a patent only to later realize that there is already a patent for a similar invention. To avoid this scenario completely, conducting a patent search is in order. Patents hinge on the fact that they are one-of-a-kind; therefore, taking the time to research current patents and confirm that an invention does not already exist, should be the very first step. The USPTO makes it possible to conduct a preliminary patent search on your own; however, it is highly recommended that you consult with a licensed patent search firm to assist with the bulk of the research. These firms have vast experience researching and are extremely knowledgeable in the classification systems.
Once the research portion has been conducted, the next common early-stage question that resonates in the mind of entrepreneurs is, Do I need to patent my design? Having a patent for your product design allows you to claim all rights to the product. Often a design patent is overlooked and underutilized since this type of patent focuses more on the exterior design, features and overall aesthetics of the product and less on functionality.
Design patents extend to what is exactly shown in the drawings, nothing more. Having high-quality professional line drawings by a CAD designer is extremely advantageous. With a design patent, you are able to use the coveted phrases, patent pending and patent issued on all marketing material, and have confidence that your invention is protected for the next fourteen years. A design patent coupled with a utility patent provides overlapping protection for both the inner workings and exterior design of your product, and is a powerful tool in your IP arsenal.
In contrast to design patents, utility patents focus solely on the inner workings of your invention, its unique functions and overall usefulness. An invention is deemed useful if it provides an identifiable benefit and is capable of use. People often refer to utility patents as “patents for invention”. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, ninety-percent of the patent documents issued by the USPTO in recent years have been utility patents. With a utility patent your invention will be protected for the next twenty years.
Design and utility patents each have a distinct form of protection and are often used congruently. It is best to consult with a licensed patent attorney to review the options and see what type of protection will be the most beneficial and cost-effective.
So, you have done your research and are confident that your new product has not been previously patented, now is the time to decide if you need to file for a provisional or non-provisional utility patent.
In simple terms, a provisional application is a quick and inexpensive way to begin protecting an invention while you continue its development, conduct market testing and obtain funding. A provisional patent gives you exactly one year to file a non-provisional utility patent application and move forward in the patent process. If you do not file within the one year time period, you have in essence “abandoned” the utility patent application and no longer have claim to the invention. Filing a non-provisional patent application establishes a firm filing date and starts the official examination process with the USPTO.
It is important to understand that although you file a patent application, there is no guarantee it will be issued. Examiners will review your application and look for prior patents that may conflict with what you are claiming. However, once you are granted a patent, you then have all rights to the invention and can enforce any infringement upon it.
While patents cannot provide a guarantee that your product will be successful, patents do allow you to secure all rights and claims to your invention and provide comprehensive IP protection. Patents can bolster competitive advantage and assist in the streamlining of the entire commercialization process. Without patent protection, some inventions cannot be commercialized at all because both the inventor and investors understand that the product can easily be duplicated, leaving them with no recourse if their product is copied. Taking the time to develop a high quality patent means much more in the marketplace and can ultimately determine the success or failure of a product.
*This post was written by 3D Innovations and published on the PD&D website. Here is the link to view our article there.
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
With increasing litigation sparked by patent trolls, patents and the entire patent system have come under scrutiny. Many are calling for patent system reform while others are saying that the entire system should be abolished. Getting rid of the entire patent system would “strip away much of the incentive to create, impeding investment in new technologies, slowing the production of new creative content and harming economic growth”. In short, it would be a disaster.
“Just because today’s technologies can sometimes make it easier to invent more quickly and at less cost doesn’t mean the resulting inventions are less valuable to society or less worthy of protection.” Without the protection of the patent system many entrepreneurs would be at risk of having their innovations simply stolen by larger competitors. The Patent Act of 1790 was the first federal patent statute in the United States and it was created because there was a need to safeguard inventors. While patent laws have transformed over the years, the principle that entrepreneurs and inventions need safeguards remains true.
The current patent system in place does have its flaws and standards should be tighter to ensure that only inventions truly worthy of protection receive intellectual property rights. Reforming the patent system should be the next step, not abolishing it. “The fast pace of innovation and the increasingly international flow of goods and content can create challenges for traditional patent and copyright systems. But those systems, despite their flaws, remain vital to economic prosperity. The correct approach is to update them, not dismantle them.”
Have further questions about patents, the patent process or prototyping for a patent application? Please contact us at email@example.com
Works cited: The Scientific American – Why Patents and Copyright Protections Are More Important Than Ever
3D Innovations is a full service 3D Engineering/Design company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.