Quick Pre-Patent Checklist
‘Patent preparedness’ is a conversation that’s not commonly discussed. From a mainstream perspective, most inventors are encouraged to adopt a “patent or bust” strategy that only works against the success you’re trying to build for yourself. Today, we’ll work together to put a few rumors to rest.
Long before you start moving toward patent application, you must ask yourself a few important questions. In doing so, you’ll realize that a patent may or may not be the best move for you, your invention, and your business. Ultimately, this due process will help you avoid wasting a considerable amount of time and money on dead-end efforts.
Bear in mind, this simulation checklist is not, by any means, exclusive. There are certain avenues that must be traveled for specific industries and inventions but, generally speaking, you’ll walk away with a decent understanding of your position, by the time you’re finished.
Asking the Tough Questions
One of the hardest things for an inventor to do is be realistic about market demands. As creators, it’s easy to adopt an idealistic mentality that convinces you that you can create a market for your idea, if one does not already exist, but things don’t always evolve as expected. Rather than fight against the tide, ask yourself a few pressing questions to get a better understanding of where your idea may fit in your industry like.
Is there an expressed demand for your invention? Can you quantify that demand using verified industry research?
Has your idea been translated into a functional prototype? Have you considered what is required to commercialize your invention?
Moreover, are you in a position to follow through with all that’s required to obtain a patent?
Let’s discuss these questions/concerns in further detail.
Understanding Your Industry
Earlier, I asked you about the real demand for your invention. If there is not an audience waiting for what you’ve created to satisfy their needs, everything else you do is pointless. In the words of John Carlton, a world-renowned direct marketer, “A lot of people want to sell something, but just because you like it, that doesn’t mean anybody else does.”
That said, the same applies to your intellectual property. Without a considerable demand, there is no need to pursue a patent. However, that truth has not stopped thousands of patent applicants from moving forward with the process, even without an audience to support the effort. You must be wise with your time and the way you expend your energy. Make the effort to study your market and use that research to help you decide whether a patent is the right decision.
You should be able to create a clear customer profile with the information you find. When asked, you should be able to answer who your customer is, where they are in the world, and how you plan to reach them. As the profile is developed further, you’ll be able to fill in additional details like the types of media your customer frequents, the quality they’re expecting, and the time of year when they’re most likely to be on the hunt for similar products.
Developing the Prototype
There is no way to patent an idea. While intellectual properties have certain rights and provisions, the US Patent and Trademark Office seeks an “identifiable embodiment” to coincide with each application. In short, you need a prototype to submit. At the very least, you must be able to provide the office with some form of tangible product that represents your invention.
Before you can consider having your product patent (or even placed in stores), you must first go to great lengths to make sure you have a functional prototype in hand. Whether you’ll be working on its development yourself or outsourcing the work to someone else, this is another must-have that can’t be ignored.
Despite the potential delay in submitting your patent application, working through the development of a prototype is one of the best things you can do for your business. In doing so, you’ll be forced to address the difference between concept and actualization. This step will give you a head start on getting your idea prepared for commercialization.
Establishing a Plan for Commercialization
The information you gathered through your market research will help you identify exactly what your prototype needs in order to appeal to your audience. You’ll understand how to package it and develop a marketing plan to make it most attractive. That’s when commercialization can safely come into the equation.
There are multiple ways to approach this task, some being more lucrative than others. The most profitable, but less chosen, method is to pioneer an entrepreneurial attempt on your own. With this strategy, you’d be responsible for advancing your idea throughout the various stages in the sales process; locating and marketing the finalized prototype to prospective buyers.
It’s a risky decision for an inexperienced inventor to take on. With so many faculties to consider, from creation to pricing, mass-production to retail sales, there is much to attend to at once. Even still, this method is, by far, the best way for you to remain in control of the majority of your profits.
If you don’t feel you have the time or experience (or capital and connections) to proceed on a solo mission, other commercialization strategies include selling or licensing a patent to an outside source who can take care of everything on your behalf. This route yields less immediate profits, but royalties are a satisfactory trade off, for some; especially because you’ll save yourself from carrying the risk on your own.
Lastly, it’s important for you to choose the patent option that makes the most sense. There is a difference between real patents and provisional patent filings. I advise inventors to make the effort to apply for a full patent, opposed to provisional guarantees. Once you’ve addressed everything on this pre-patent checklist, moving forward with the “real thing” is a much more efficient decision.
Though there are an infinite number of “patent experts” in the world who’d advise you that the things we’ve discussed aren’t necessary, it’s important to bear in mind their motivation. These companies get paid regardless if your idea is successful or not. Steer clear from advisors who push you to make fast monetary investments. My best advice is to take your time, learn your market, weigh your options, then strike when the iron’s hot.