How to patent an idea? And why is it a good idea?

Team planning on how to patent an idea

You have created a product (or you are thinking about it) and now you are wondering what if someone steals it or benefits from it? In this article I go through the basics on how to patent an idea and what you can do to prevent this from happening.

Let’s start with the basics: It is not possible to patent an idea. An idea is not tangible and simply it is not possible to patent it.

However, as your idea grows into an invention, it might start to fulfill the requirements of a patent. It is possible that it is going to be in high demand after its launch, and therefore attract other creators to copy it. It makes sense to protect your own innovation with a patent as it protects your invention.

 Getting a patent is a detailed process and varies between countries. In this article we cover the basics of how to patent an idea. To get more country-specific patenting information, contact your local authorities, such as Finnish Patent and Registration Office, PRH

What is a patent?

You can see patent as a recognition of an invention. More specifically a patent is an exclusive right provides you the right to prohibit others from utilizing your invention commercially. This means for example manufacturing, selling, using or importing a product. 

However, having a patent does not automatically give the patent owner the right to utilize the invention commercially, as permits grated by other authorities or by owners of other patents might be needed. 

Patents are usually in force for a limited amount of time, for example 20 years. 

Why patent an idea?

There are a lot of reasons why you should patent your invention. It is part of your company’s’ business plan and it protects the company from copycats and from losing market share. 

Three main reasons to patent your invention are:

 You restrict your competitors’ operations: 

  • A patent gives you an exclusive right to your own product
  • Having an patent gives you an advantage over your competitors and you gain time to develop your product further
  • Your competition needs to invest a lot of money to come up with other solutions if they want to enter the same market

A patent is viewed as property: 

  • You can sell your patent
  • Licensing someone to commercially use the patented invention against payment
  • You can freely price your patented products – depending on your product strategy it can be lower or higher than competition

A patent has an advertising and image value:

  • Patenting gives the impression of a high-tech company
  • A patent may boost your sales

What are the requirements of a patent?

There are three main elements that need to be filled for your invention to be patented:

  • The invention must be new

An invention must be new in relation to what was public knowledge before the date of filing the patent application. It is best not to unveil the invention before the patent application is filed. 

  • It needs to involve an inventive step

The invention must involve an inventive step to be judged substantially different from all that was public knowledge before the first date of the application. 

  • The invention must be industrially applicable

To be a patentable invention, it must be technological in nature, and the invention must solve a technical problem. The description of the invention in the patent application must include adequate information for a person skilled in the art in the relevant technical field to carry out the invention. The invention must also be repeatable.

What cannot be patented?

There are certain things you cannot patent: 

  • Discoveries, scientific theories and mathematical methods
  • Aesthetic creations
  • Schemes, rules and methods for performing mental acts, playing games or doing business
  • Programs for computers, or presentations of information
  • Methods for surgical or therapeutic treatment or diagnostic methods, practiced on humans or animals

Utility model vs patent

You can also get a utility model to protect your invention, similarly to a patent. So, when you should consider getting an utility model over a patent?

There are few use cases and benefits on a utility model over a patent. 

A utility model allows a quicker way to register protection for your invention. Therefore, it is an good alternative for inventions which need a faster way of protection against competition. A utility model is also cheaper in terms of fees than a patent.

A patent and a utility model are equally protective against competition. However, a utility model is not examined based on its novelty, unless specifically requested and paid. 

A utility model is especially aimed at inventions which have lesser complexity and innovativeness. If you have an technical invention and you are unsure if its worthy of a patent, it is possible that getting an utility model is the right choice. 

In conclusion:

To conclude, you can not patent an idea. However, you can patent an innovation.

This article is part of a series on new product development. Now that you know about how to patent an idea, learn the rest here:

man working on new product development

New Product Development – what is it? [Guide 2021]

New product development is the process of creating a new product and taking it into market. It’s a complicated process so we’ve created this guide to help you navigate through it!

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