Protecting an Idea: Can Ideas be Patented?

In the modern world, it’s become common for individuals to become successful entrepreneurs after coming up with an original idea. Whereas decades ago, most people would be content with getting a regular 9-5 job until they retired. Now we hear stories like Spanx’s creator, Sara Blakely, for whom a small idea turned her into a billionaire or college kids all over the country who start software from their dorm rooms and will never have to worry about finances again. 

But what is required to receive federal protection for an idea? Can you just race to register what you just came up with, or do you have to meet additional requirements? 

What is a Patent?

A patent is protection you can receive from the U.S. government to prevent someone else from profiting from your inventions. For example, let’s say that you think of new ways of working remotely by creating your own hologram. You can work from home but also appear “in person” at office meetings. Sounds really cool, doesn’t it? And if it works well, the last thing you want is for someone else who overheard you to market it as their own idea. 

When you apply for a patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), you can prevent exactly that from happening. 

Requirements to Patent an Invention

Now, while receiving patent protection sounds like a solution to an understandable worry, it’s crucial to keep in mind that you must meet certain elements for your patent application to qualify for protection: 

  1. Your idea has to be original. 
  2. Your idea has to be non-obvious. 
  3. You must include a detailed description of how to make it happen. 
  4. You have to submit your own application within one year from when you first disclosed your invention to the public. 

Also, keep in mind that these requirements are put in place if you want to receive protection within the United States. If you’ve come up with an innovation that you wish to receive worldwide protection, you can file a Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) application with the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Can Ideas Be Patented?

If you only have an idea, then no, it cannot be patented by itself. However, suppose you’ve fully developed an original concept, and you’ve come up with detailed explanations on how to build or create such an invention. In that case, you can apply for patent protection

Your application must include step-by-step details on how to create the invention. The content has to be viable enough so that a person reading it would be able to build it simply from following your instructions and/or looking at your diagrams and/or photographs. 

As for the non-obvious requirement, your detailed idea must be of such a nature that an expert within that industry would find it noteworthy and surprising. It must also fall within one of the following three categories: 

Utility Patent

This is the applicable patent if your idea (and accompanying instructions on how to make it a reality) relate to new machinery, article of manufacturing, or establishing a new process of creating something. 

Design Patent

A design patent involves coming up with an original ornamental design. This applies exclusively to the look of an invention; and not any functional features. 

Plant Patent

This type of patent can be used by anyone who successfully reproduces a new variety of plant asexually. 

What if the USPTO Needs Additional Information After Your Application Has Been Submitted? 

If the United States Patents and Trademarks Office determines that your idea is viable but that the application needs additional details, they will send you a notification in writing. Once you receive it, you will have three months from the date of the letter (Office Action) to submit the requested information without having to pay extension of time fees. The maximum time permitted to respond is six months having paid the appropriate extension of time fees for each additional month between month three and month six. If you fail to submit it during this timeframe, your application will go abandoned.

What Happens If the USPTO Rejects a Patent Application? 

If your application is rejected, you can file an appeal with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) within six months of the rejection. However, it’s possible that the USPTO could specify a different deadline, so always read all communications carefully. 

If You Need Help to Patent an Idea, Sanchelima & Associates Can Help

Sanchelima & Associates, P.A. is a leading intellectual property law firm in South Florida. With over 40 years of experience, we have represented the I.P. interests of a wide array of businesses, including Fortune 500 companies — and we can do business in the United States and internationally. Whether you need a consultation or prosecution of a patent, trademark or copyright, we can protect your business’s interests. 
Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest