Patents for Startups: 4 Things You Need to Know

Are you planning a startup where your most valuable asset is your intellectual property?  If so, you are probably looking to get that IP patented.  If not, then you might be behind!

1. What should I file?  Early-stage startups usually file a provisional application before diving deep into high cost nonprovisional applications.  Provisionals are lean applications with enough disclosure to cover as many embodiments of your invention as possible in order to secure an early filing date.  Provisionals are cheap and relatively easy to file.  Nobody sees them unless you later file a nonprovisional application on the same subject matter.  Within a year, provisional applications must be converted to nonprovisionals, or they expire.

2. When should I file?  After you publicize an idea, a 1-year timer starts ticking.  At the end of that year, the idea enters the public domain and you can no longer file a patent on that idea.  The U.S. grace period is actually fairly generous – the rest of the world is not so forgiving.  Product startups hoping to launch a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign should file at least a provisional application first.

3. Do I need a patent?  Patents provide a limited monopoly in exchange for public disclosure of your invention.  This limited monopoly grants you the right to exclude others from manufacturing, using, exporting, selling or offering for sale your invention for a period of time (20 years after filing a utility patent; 14 for design patents).  

If you are selling or plan to sell a product that can be readily copied (by reverse engineering), it’s probably best to get a patent on it.  Keep in mind that the product doesn’t need to be tangible:  SaaS patents are widely prevalent in the industry today.

4. Should I write it myself or hire a professional?  There are many resources available that will guide you through the patent process.  One example is Pressman’s “Patent It Yourself”.  But once the first Office action comes around, you may be hard-pressed to fight it if you realize you left out a key element in your description.

If you think you have a patentable product or if you are just plain confused, feel free to shoot us an email at patents@intellentlaw.com or schedule a free consultation.