Poor Man’s Patent: Is It Real Or A Myth?

Got a big idea but no budget to patent it? You might’ve been told to file a “poor man’s patent” to get one quickly and inexpensively. 

But what is this kind of patent, and does it actually work?

How does the Poor Man’s Patent work?

It used to be that the United States followed the “first to invent” principle. This meant that the person who first invented something would receive a patent automatically.

Poor man’s patents consist of writing out a description of your invention and then mailing it to yourself via certified mail. The postmark on the envelope was said to mark the date you first created your invention. 

If someone else said that they invented the same thing as you, you would have proof that you were the first one with this postmarked letter. Its appeal was that it was much less expensive and simpler than going through the process of preparing and filing a whole patent application. 

However, in reality, the poor man’s patent has always been a myth and has never offered any real legal protection.

When the America Invents Act was passed in 2013, it did away with this decades-old first-to-invent principle. United States patent laws now follow the first-to-file rule, as many other countries have been doing so for some time.

A first-to-file system gives priority to the first inventor that files for a patent, a major change in the U.S. tradition of granting patent rights to the first inventor.

Basically, this shift from a first-to-invent system to a first-to-file system means that being the first to invent does not protect you if someone else files first. Even if you wrote down the idea for your invention and mailed it to yourself, this date wouldn’t be valid. It’s the date of filing for your patent application with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) that would count.

In the end, there are other more practical and efficient ways to document and protect your ideas and inventions. Poor man’s patents carry no validity, and filing a patent application with the USPTO is really the only way to get a patent today.

What are the risks of applying for a patent yourself?

Under the USPTO’s pro se inventor program, inventors may file patent applications on their own. If you’ve considered this option, know that while it may seem less costly at first, it will likely cost more in the long run in terms of time and money. Besides the potential costs, applying for a patent on your own comes with its own set of risks, as well.

Misuse of legal jargon

Patent applications are extremely difficult to write. Throughout the process, we recommend working with a patent attorney who has passed the USPTO bar exam and is well versed in U.S. patent law terminology. One wrong word and it could mean several steps back in your process.

Dealing incorrectly with examiners

It’s always possible that the patent office might reject your patent application if they find too many errors. This means you’ll likely have to hire an expert to solve any discrepancies or spend a lot of time figuring out how to solve them yourself. 

DIY patents don’t usually appeal to investors

Keep this in mind if you’re going to be seeking funding from investors. While DIY patent filings tend to have a lot of mistakes that can be corrected, more often than not, these mistakes are unfixable and are very time-consuming. Your application may be ignored simply because it’s DIY. 

How to get a low-cost patent

Getting a patent doesn’t have to be super expensive. Ultimately, your best option will depend on the type of invention you have, your funding, and the amount of time and resources you’re willing to invest. As we mentioned before, the process of obtaining a patent can be costly in the short term, but in the long run, it can save you a lot of headaches, money, and time. 

These are some ways to get a low-cost patent:

  • Applying for a provisional patent
  • Getting your idea published
  • Obtaining trade secret protection

If You Need a Consulting Regarding Patenting Your Invention, Sanchelima & Associates Can Help

Sanchelima & Associates, P.A. is one of the leading intellectual property law firms in South Florida. With over 40 years of experience, we have represented the IP interests of a wide array of businesses in the US and abroad, including Fortune 500 companies. Whether you need a consultation or prosecution of a patent, trademark, or copyright, we can protect your business’s interests. 

Contact us to book your consultation!

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