Ever thought of a really good idea, only to find out someone already thought of it? Or maybe you start to research it only to find nothing like it on the market?
Recent technological advances in industries such as processors, material sciences, electronic components and robotics have created a boom of new products in the last decade. Understanding what creations are protected is the first step to getting your idea to market.
One way to get started is to head to your favorite search engine and begin the patent/product exploration process. There are millions of patents and trademarks that have been issued by the USPTO, and digging through them can be quite cumbersome. While you need to do as much of the due diligence as possible, it is always important to rely on the experts before assuming you're in the clear to start selling a product. It's not necessarily an activity for a lazy Sunday, however, as the process may very well cost you over $1000 with a high quality law firm.
That being said, next time you have that fun idea, head over to https://www.uspto.gov/ to do a little sleuthing.
You may find that your exact idea has been patented, but then again you may not. While many patents are owned by large corporations, still many, such as mine, are owned by individual inventors. People may be willing to license or sell their patent, which can get you the legal assurance you need and save you an enormous amount of time.
If you do find yourself interested in going after an original patent, the next step is to take a deep breath. Patience will be a virtue. I found the speed and specificity in which the USPTO communicates to be a double edged sword. On one hand, they take the scope and legal jurisdiction of patents very seriously. On the other hand, it's been 5 months why haven't they responded!!!
Truth be told I recognized very quickly this would not be a get-rich-quick scheme. It took over four years from my initial Google search until I was issued the patent, and it cost quite a bit more than the amount I mentioned a simple patent search may cost you. I frequently see websites advertising patent costs of around $150-500. Good luck.
Over the next 15 years, the "Small Entity" fees alone will cost over $6K just to keep the document active. The "Large Entity" fees are way scarier. I certainly don't mean to paint doom & gloom, but if $5K sounds horrible to you, I would be cautious of the full blown patent application process.
Overall, the patent process has been extraordinarily educational. Getting to experience the process first hand has taught me things I do not think I could have ever appreciated through reading in the classroom. The overall takeaway you (I) ask? It seems everything in life, or at least everything in business, costs more and takes longer than you'd like. At least if you're impatient and stingy like I am.
Have any questions? Feel free to send me a message and I would be glad to share/discuss any part of my experience you may be curious about.