One of the most common things that an inventor wonders about is how to get a patent. To apply for a patent in the United States, you must contact the US Patent and Trademark Office. There are two types of application. It is relatively inexpensive to apply for a PPA, which is a provisional patent application. This will give you the right to say that you have a patent pending, however you must put in a full patent application within one year after applying for the provisional one.
The first step to getting a patent is to document your idea. If you work with a patent attorney they will tell you to draw up professional diagrams and images, but this is optional if your own diagrams are clear enough you could use them. You should describe your idea clearly and highlight the ways that it is unique or improves upon existing inventions in that industry, as well as how those ideas are non-trivial so it would be hard for someone else to stumble upon them.
You will then need to check that no-one else has already created or come up with the same idea. This means checking existing patents as well as journals and scientific and technical publications to find out if anyone else has documented a similar invention. You should check online, in patent libraries, and even check stores for products that fulfil the same need in the same way.
If it is provable that your idea is unique and non-trivial, then you are in a position to apply for a patent for it. The USPTO is obliged to offer guidance for you if you want to apply for yourself. If you want an attorney to apply for you, then ask to see the register of attorneys that are permitted to apply for patents. Only reputable, registered attorneys are allowed to put in for patents on behalf of a third party. This is to protect inventors from being over-charged, or working with someone without the skills to put in an application that is likely to be accepted, as well as to reduce the risk of intellectual property theft.
Applying for a patent takes a while. The USPTO publishes expected wait times for patent applications on their website, on the data visualisation dashboard. There are currently more than half a million unexamined applications waiting to be seen. This is why it is a good idea to apply for a provisional patent as a stopgap the provisional patent will give you some protection while you prepare your final application, and you can have the patent backdated to the time of the PPA application.
If you have any intellectual property that you plan to make money from, then you should take steps to protect your income. Think carefully before you begin the application process, however, as getting a full patent can cost more than $1,500 will you really monetise the idea that you have had?
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