While pursuing my engineering degree my professors provided me with a thorough understanding of mechanical and electrical design and instruction on how to build prototypes for testing. As far as technical skills were concerned, I was well equipped to turn my ideas into real inventions. Unfortunately, my engineering school, like most others, never went beyond these technical aspects of inventing. For example, we never discussed the business and legal aspects of manufacturing and selling an invention.
The fact is, most first time inventors have little or no understanding of how to go about obtaining a patent to prevent others from copying and profiting from their inventions. They also tend to take a haphazard approach to inventing, neglecting important issues such as whether a market for their invention exists, or whether they will face competition already in place. A lot of time and money can be spent developing an invention, only to discover that it had already been patented by someone else. They do all the up-front work, blissfully unaware of the repercussions of negative possibilities, like getting sued by any existing patent holder, suits which are among the most expensive to defend.
For most individuals the patent process is a hotbed of mysteries and misconceptions. Let’s start unraveling them by first gaining a basic understanding of what a patent is.
In short, a patent grants you a legal right, much like other legal rights you may be more familiar with. For example, if you own property, say a car or piece of real estate, you’re provided with a legal document known as a title. This title defines your legal right to own that property.
Similar to a title, a patent grants you the legal right to own intellectual property, or IP, as its inventor. IP is a term used in the business and legal arenas to refer to creations of the inventor’s mind. Once patented, these creations become the property of the inventor, and they have commercial value. This value is derived from the fact that the patent can be used to exclude others from producing the invention and profiting from it. The IP rights can also be sold or licensed to others for a profit.
IP can encompass subjects as diverse as machinery, articles of manufacture, compositions of matter, and many diverse processes, all of which we’ll look into during the course of this blog series.