If you want to convert your idea to a patent and are wondering whether your idea can be patented, here are some steps you should take to nurture the idea and to transform it into a strong patent.
If your idea is well-thought out and well-documented, a great chunk of confusion is taken away and the patent application drafting process is greatly simplified. The following illustration gives a quick overview on how to document your idea effectively and some tips on how to strategize filling an invention disclosure form.
Define the problem statement:
Although this point seems like something obvious, an inventor must concretely define the problem statement that they are attacking. There are multiple benefits of doing so. To start with, the more concrete the technical problem is, better is the direction for ideating the technical solution. Several times, a feature or a solution may be thought of as a simply ‘good to have’ feature but it is not necessary that it qualifies to for patentability because it does not solve any real-world technical problem.
Another reason an inventor should be working on the problem is to clearly spell it out in the patent application draft. This helps the readers (particularly examiners) understand the direction the draft is flowing in even before the actual invention is defined. Defining a concrete problem statement builds a solid foundation for the invention description in the mind of the reader.
Further, defining the problem enables an inventor to define the scope of their solution. While ideating, several ideas cross an inventor’s mind. If the problem is well-defined, it is easy to seggregate those ideas under separate problem statements or a single problem statement.
While defining the problem statement, it’s also beneficial to research on the existing solutions to understand how that particular problem has been attacked/solved by others. This exercise gives a new perspective and dimension to approach the problem. An inventor also gets rid of any confirmation bias (a thought that my solution must be unique!) while ideating. This exercise forces the inventor to come out of his comfort zone and to think through different channels and come up with more ways to solve the problem.
The next logical step is to ideate/brainstorm on the problem. As an invention, you should come up with as many solutions as you think are possible/feasible. At this stage, you need not worry about how exactly to practice or implement them. If you can theoretically define the high-level implementation details, they can be included in your patent application. Just let the thoughts flow at this stage.
Once you have all the possible solutions lined up, filter them down by doing a thorough prior art search. Use the results of this prior art search to either eliminate any weak solutions/ideas (that are already available in public domain) or modify them to make them strong. Researching on other publications would also give you new insights to add more solutions or strengthen the existing solutions. Read patent publications, articles, blogs, research papers etc. to understand how the industry has attacked your problem and try to make your solution better.
While ideating, you must also ensure that the core idea is not an exception to patentability. Have a look at the list of exceptions in the country you want to file a patent in. In my experience, every country has a certain set of exceptions that cannot be patentable. In India for instance, these are the set of exceptions that cannot be patented. Just to take an example, if you come up with a new mathematical equation or may be a new way of doing business, these ideas may not be patentable since they fall under exceptions. With the advent of start-up era in India, people are trying to patent software applications. You may note that software per se (as such) is not patentable. This means that you cannot patent just the software (e.g. source code). However, you can describe the functioning of hardware (called physical constructional features in patentese language!) and then try to file a patent for it.
Similarly, if you are trying to file in other countries, you need to check exceptions in those countries.
As a sidenote, if you think your idea might fall in the exception category, don’t lose hope. Consult a patent agent or a patent attorney on how you can overcome the challenge. For example, if you have a software application, don’t jump to the conclusion that software is not patentable, so I cannot patent my idea. A patent attorney could suggest you ways like adding hardware or defining the invention better to overcome this challenge.
Moving on, once you have covered the above points in your ideation strategy, ask the following questions to yourself:
– What is the problem statement I am targeting?
– Has this problem being solved before?
– How is my solution different from already available solutions?
– How does my idea exactly address the problem I defined earlier?
– Do I need to redefine the problem I am targeting?
– What are the advantages of my idea over alternate approaches to solve the problem?
These questions will help you give a shape to your idea.
Create an Invention disclosure:
You may want to look at this step as a transition from a mental exercise (ideation/thinking/brainstorming) to giving a more formal shape to the idea. Invention disclosure may also be called Invention disclosure form (IDF) or a Disclosure of Invention (DOI). It basically implies a first draft of your invention that can form a basis for writing a patent application. Exactly because of this reason – first draft, you should have a strong focus on creating a detailed and well-defined invention disclosure. The better the invention disclosure is written, clearer the visualisation your patent attorney or agent would have about your invention.
While creating an invention disclosure, use the results of steps 1 and 2 to write down all necessary details regarding the invention. Draw detailed flowcharts, block diagrams and any other drawings that you think can be helpful to understand your invention.
Ideally, a crude flowchart or a block diagram should be drawn while brainstorming on the idea (step 2). This helps you get clarity on each step of the process or the the overall structure of the product/article you are developing. This helps you visualise everything. As you keep brainstorming, keep adding steps/blocks to your drawing. If you have not done this while brainstorming, do it now at this stage. Once you visualise things clearly, it’s easy to dismantle the whole idea into pieces, find the important/novel portions and focus on them and reassemble everything to build a strong, exhaustive patent.
This exercise also helps while drafting a patent. The claims can be directly extracted from these drawings. If they are drawn clearly, the claims can be written efficiently and with focus on the right features.
Further, write descriptive details on each step and each block (especially the unique elements of the invention). Connect the uniqueness with the problem statement and describe how exactly the unique elements of your invention address the problem statement you defined in step 1. Further, provide the supporting details. If there is any jargon used, explain the meaning and significance to avoid clarify rejections in patent prosecution.
Try to describe each and every important feature of your idea. Your primary focus should be describing all the novel elements of your idea. Try to capture several variations of every embodiment and all possible implementation details. These variations are called work-arounds. Think from a competitor’s perspective and try to capture how the competitor would implement your idea differently. One way of doing so is to refer your flowchart/block diagram and see how each step/block can be done differently. Capture that.
Remember that in a patent, it’s not sufficient to describe only the uniqueness. You should provide sufficient details on how can one implement your invention without undue experimentation from the details given in your patent. These details need not necessarily be unique but need to describe the elements of your invention properly.
Patent preparation and filing: Idea to Patent
After the invention disclosure is created, you should shortlist a patent attorney that fits your budget and is capable of providing good quality work product. Ensure that you have at least one detailed discussion with him on the invention and get him to do a professional prior art search again. This would enable you to add another filter to modify/eliminate any weak elements in your invention and better shape it up for patentability.
While drafting the patent application, be in close coordination with him, especially on the claims section. Once the draft is ready, ensure that you review the draft thoroughly to check for errors, scope coverage and any other preferred parameters.
Lastly, take record of your application number once it is filed to track it later.
I hope these steps would enable you to create strong patent application. If you liked this article, please subscribe to this blog to get notified about more patent related articles.