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A small business blog featuring tips to help entrepreneurs succeed in the small business world. Topics include family business, human resources, marketing, money, networking, operations, ownership, startup, taxes and technology.
Should You File a Patent on that Great Idea?
These days, as new businesses continually pop up on every corner of every freshly constructed commercial street, there are bound to be some duplications and similarities along the way. One way you can protect your business practices from being copied by another company is to patent them.
According to the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO), a patent is: a property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.
In other words, a patent keeps other businesses from making money off of your ideas. This is not simply limited to a product you have come up with, but also business practices and strategies. This also includes combining two or more products/strategies that have already been patented to form a better and more useful product or service.
For example, in Breakfast in a Whole New Way, I discussed breakfast restaurant owners who were getting patents on what kind of mix-ins could be combined with cereals, such as M&Ms and skittles, in order to keep competitors from adopting the same options for customers.
The patent process is very long and loaded with paperwork. And it is difficult and expensive to enforce a patent if someone else tries to infringe on it. So, before you sort through all the red tape, ask yourself these questions:
Has someone beat me to the punch?
Before even considering a patent, you need to make sure that no one else has already beat you to it. There are a number of online searches available including USPTO’s and Google Patent Search, which are both free. Other searches such as Delphion require a fee.
Is it worth it?
If there isn’t a patent like yours out there, then you need to determine if it is actually worth the trouble to pursue a patent. In order for it to be worth while, your business should center around the product/service you want to patent.
If someone where to copy your invention and it would result in the demise of your company, then a patent is definitely worth your time. However, if the patent is for a side product that doesn’t bring in as much revenue as your big seller, then it’s probably not necessary.
Do I have the resources?
It takes a lot of time and money to enforce a patent if someone is tapping in to your creativity. It can also be extremely expensive to defend yourself if someone else sues for patent infringement. Be sure you have the resources available to protect your company if you were to face opposition on either side.
Related Small Business Buzz Posts:
Getting Your Invention on the Market
Expanding Your Business Overseas: Protecting Your Product
Revisions to the U.S. Patent Law Under Consideration
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