We all love that moment when the lightbulb above our heads suddenly glows, and glows, and keeps on glowing so much that the glass shatters. Sometimes these ideas snap you from your slumber at 3 o’clock in the morning. Sometimes they happen as you are brushing your teeth, or taking the subway to work, or talking to children. There is no definitive time or place, there are just the rare phenomena of a brilliant idea.
But having a great idea is the easy part. Knowing what to do with this thought – this invention – now that is the tricky part. And while there are numerous different routes you can go down, there is only one first move you should be concerned with, and that is protecting your idea.
Protecting it is the only way you will make money from it, and the best way to protect an idea is to patent it. Don’t tell your friends, or the blokes down the bar, or a company that already works in this market; just patent it, otherwise there are no guarantees that it won’t be snatched by an eager listener.
We’ve all heard of a patent. However, not many of us actually know what the process entails. So what does patenting an idea entail:
Stage 1: The Proof Is In The Detail
Having an idea is no good, not without proof that it is actually your idea. But how do you prove you came up with something? Well, the first thing you should do is pull the pen out of your jacket and write down every single little detail you can that relates to your idea. Write about the idea. Write about the product. Write about how it will work and who it will work for. Write how you plan to market it. Once this is done, go and buy yourself an Inventor’s Journal, copy all of your notes into it and have a witness sign it. An Inventor Journal (yes, this is actually a thing) is basically just a notebook that has been bound, had its pages numbered and has pages that can’t be removed or reinserted. Stage 1 done. Simple.
Stage 2: Due Diligence
Unfortunately, just because you may not have seen your idea anywhere else, does not necessarily mean it hasn’t already been patented. So, always do an initial search to confirm it doesn’t already exist and isn’t already protected by someone else. This includes finding any artwork or designs that relate to your idea because they’ll stop you from being able to get a patent too. As a sort of recommendation, do your due diligence on the market too. There is no point investing time and money into something that no one is going to buy. See if there are similar products out there, see how well they are selling and see whether you can compete with them on price.
Stage 3: The First Attempt
First things first, make a prototype before you patent your idea. Why? Simple; you are going to find flaws in your original idea, flaws that will need amending, flaws that will see you add a new feature to your idea and that new feature will need to be present in the patent. That would be risky because not patenting the added features could leave the door open to someone else patenting those features. Ouch.
Stage 4: File It
When all of the creases have been ironed out and you are happy with your idea, then go and get file a patent (which will either be a utility patent or design patent). We recommend you always have an experienced professional look over application before you file it, though. The reason for this is to make it watertight. If your idea is as great as you think it is, then people and companies will most likely infringe on it, so make sure there are no loopholes.
Stage 5: Rock and Roll
This will include all of the necessary steps that every entrepreneur has to go through, such as writing a business plan, approaching investors and raising funds, because without funds you are not going to get very far. Then you need to consider how you are actually going to manufacture your idea. It could be possible to go it alone. If not, though, then license it to another company. If it is an app, then bring a software development company on board, although you will be shocked at how little you get in royalty fees. However, think about the financial burden you will be free of if you do go down this route. If your product is tangible, then cautiously approach a number of different manufacturing companies to get a feel of their experience, their costs, their ethos and what they will be like as working partners. The latter is probably more important than any other factor. You want to trust the people you are working with.
Once all this is done, well, then it is just the small matter of marketing your product, which requires a new set of skills and understanding.