Patent Me This, Batman

By Alyson Mead

I believe there is creativity in every person and so, apparently, does Simon Cowell (or maybe he knows it makes great TV!). The crazies on American Inventor aside, I believe that people's creativity may may be suppressed, out of fear or embarrassment, or just undiscovered. But maybe you already knew that. Maybe you have a little workshop in your garage or in a corner of your apartment. Maybe you spend your free time tinkering around, trying to make a better mousetrap. Maybe you count yourself among the inventors, a rare breed of maverick that feels compelled to solve the most mundane of problems. And I, for one, thank you for being that kind of freak.

If you’re going to be an inventor, though, it’s crucial to protect your Intellectual Property from people who might try to steal your idea and your resulting profits. There are three types of patents currently granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. They are:

• Design Patents

• Utility Patents

• Plant Patents

Design and Utility Patents are the two most commonly applied for. As of the time of this writing, Design Patents are issued for a period of 14 years, and protect the design of a device, machine or process. For instance, you cannot patent a woman’s purse. But if you've made substantial enough changes to it in terms of its structure and overall look, you may be granted a Design Patent.

A Utility Patent is granted for a period of 20 years, and governs the way a device, machine or process might be used. If significant improvements are made to the way a process, such as yoga or physical exercise, is used, it may be granted a Utility Patent.

Plant Patents protect new varieties of plants, which may be patently (sorry) obvious.

Some people choose to go through a patent attorney, and that can be very helpful for newbies. But if money is an issue, Design Patents are very easy to apply for, and the services of an attorney are not required. The typical cost of obtaining a design patent is approximately $400, which does not include an international patent search or technical drawings. An international patent search is necessary to make sure someone else has not yet patented your idea or design. Patent searches can be done in patent libraries, or through a patent searcher, who is likely to charge around $200-300 per search. Technical drawings are usually necessary, unless your product has been prototyped (at least one of them has to exist, in other words).

Applying for a patent provides “patent pending” or “patent applied for” status, usually in about six weeks. Much, if not all, of the process can be done online at, or easily with PatentWizard 2.0. Doing things this way allows you to seek out venture capital, if you want to start your own business and take care of manufacturing, or approach a licensing agent, if you’d prefer to farm out the manufacturing in exchange for a cut of units produced and sold.

Licensing is another issue, but suffice it to say that you will need a logbook to track the process of inventing your product. In the event of a challenge by the Patent Office, you need to have a record of drawings, sketches, ideas and random jottings that are dated along the way. Inventor’s Place has a wonderful logbook that not only gives you the space you need to keep track of your invention’s progress, but also gives encouragement and valuable tips that will save you money before you fork any more over to the government.

Alyson Mead is founder of In her 18-year career as an award-winning writer, she has published hundreds of articles in over 25 outlets, including Salon, AOL, MSN-NBC, BUST, New York Daily News, Bitch, The Sun, In These Times and more. She has received the Columbine Award for Screenwriting, the Roy W. Dean Filmmaking Grant, and a Writer's Digest Award.


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