What are patents and why you need to know?

Several new inventors or techies I have worked with during my career as a patent professional, want to understand the field of patents but sometimes find it a bit complicated to understand because of complex legal language and varying global practices. This article is an attempt to help my audience understand patents in simpler terms. This article helps anyone who is a patent newbie, understand the basics of patenting

What is a patent?

A patent is basically a legal right that can allow a patent owner to prevent anyone else from making, using, selling, or even importing the patented invention. Thus, a patent is different from a research publication since it is an enforceable document, implying, that a patent owner can assert their patent to exclude others from exploiting the patented invention.

The catch here is that this right is territorial. A patent can only be asserted in the jurisdiction where it is valid. For example, if you own a patent in India, you can prevent others from performing the above listed activities only in India. If you want to exercise this right in say, USA, you need to have a patent in USA as well and so on for other jurisdictions.

Why should one bother patenting an invention?

Imagine that you as an inventor put in a lot of effort and money in developing a new product. Finally, you manage to commercially launch the product in the market only to find a few days later that an exact copy of your product is launched by a third party manufacturer at a much lower price causing you to subsequently, lose your market share. A patent on your product could have prevented the third party manufacturer to sell his copy without paying royalty to you. This is one of the many possible scenarios where patents help safeguard your inventions or product portfolio by excluding third parties from exploiting those products (called patent infringement). In fact, this is why large organizations have huge patent portfolios to prevent competitors from developing the patented inventions without obtaining licenses from patent owners.

How to proceed with patenting?

Once you think you have come up with an idea, you need to articulate it clearly irrespective of how incremental its contribution is to the world. A mere thought or half-baked idea of an invention may not be sufficient to patent it and unclear details may cause confusion later during patent prosecution.

As a first step, You should clearly frame the technical problem that is being solved. Post defining the problem, you need to frame at least the basic details of your technical solution/invention and the technical advantages the invention provides. In my experience, at the initial stage, a high level flowchart outlining the essential steps is really useful in articulating the invention.

Post this articulation, you should ascertain that your invention is unique, that is, the same invention should not exist in public domain prior to applying your patent. You can ascertain this by conducting a prior art search yourself or by outsourcing it to a professional or a firm. The professional search may cost you a bit but it may also help saving higher patent drafting costs by concretely defining the unique features.

Just in case, you want to try your hand at patent searching, there are many free databases available besides a simple Google search known to most people. Some of these databases are Google Patents, Google scholar, Freepatentsonline, USPTO patent search, EP register search etc. There are many others but these provide a good starting point for a patent search. I will cover some ways to leverage your patent search using these databases in a separate article later.

After the invention is clearly defined, a patent agent or a patent attorney in your desired jurisdiction can help you file it with a patent office in the desired jurisdictions for further proceedings at the patent office.

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