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mail a description of my invention to myself and keep the envelope sealed,
can I introduce this as solid evidence of the date I invented my product?
I mail a description of my invention to myself and keep the envelope
sealed, can I introduce this as solid evidence of the date I invented
Do I need to make a prototype?
If you can make an actual working product, that should be one of the first steps. There's always room for doubt about how well something will work until it actually does. Even simple products commonly take two or three tries before they come out just right. In order to get patent protection, the inventor must be able to describe the invention well enough that someone "ordinarily skilled in the art" can practice the invention. The best way to know that the description is good enough is to have made and tested the product. On the other hand, if making the first article is going to be a long expensive process requiring outside investment, you may be better off looking into patent protection on the invention before actually making something.
How do I go about getting a prototype built and market my invention?
If you are a real "hands on" inventor, you may already have a prototype built. If not, you probably know where there are fabricators and small manufacturers in your area that can build a prototype from scratch. It isn't cheap, but developing an invention rarely is. Inventor's Digest has advertisements from companies that help in preparing design drawings and building prototypes.
You are more likely to be successful knocking on your own doors or selling your invention yourself than by "handing off' the project to some hired gun who has less of an interest in the idea.
A very few invention marketers will accept an idea for a percentage of profits. If they want to use your idea, that might be a sign it might have some merits. But beware, some of these marketers will ask you to pay "expenses" which could end up in the thousands of dollars and may represent the true source of income for the marketer.
What are my chances that my product will be a success?
Industry experts indicate that about 1 product in 20 may get licensed and that only 1 in a 100 ideas make money for the inventor. Most new product ideas fail because bringing any new product to the marketplace is an extremely uncertain process, which has considerable risk and no guarantee of success. Using the three-step CES approach provides a structured way to document your idea for presentation to manufacturers for licensing and can improve your chance for success.
How much money can my invention make me?
It is extremely difficult to project the amount of money that can be made from an invention. There are a considerable number of cost variables and channels of distribution to complicate the calculation of your expected income stream. If you were to license your invention to a manufacturer, your return would be a small percentage (2 to 9%) of the wholesale selling price of the product. If the volume of the product sold is large, the income stream can also be significant.
Can a typical inventor set up a company and build their own patented products?
Yes, this option is always available. However, most inventors do not have the requisite manufacturing, engineering, or financial skills to successfully run a company that could produce the patented product in volume and we suggest other options be exhausted before you begin this huge effort. If you can license the product to a qualified manufacturer, there is much less investment on your part to bring the product to market so your risk to reward is maximized.
How can an inventor make money with a patent?
Some inventors start new companies to develop and market their patented inventions. This is not typical, however, because the majority of inventors would rather invent than run a business. More often, an inventor makes arrangements with an existing company to develop and market the invention. This arrangement usually takes the form of a license (contract) under which the developer is authorized to commercially exploit the invention in exchange for paying the patent owner royalties for each invention sold. Or, in a common variation of this arrangement, the inventor may sell all the rights to the invention for a lump sum.
A license is written permission to use an invention. A license may be exclusive (if only one manufacturer is licensed to develop the invention) or non-exclusive (if a number of manufacturers are licensed to develop it). The license may be for the duration of the patent or for a shorter period of time.
The developer itself may license other companies to market or distribute the invention. The extent to which the inventor will benefit from these sub-licenses depends on the terms of the agreement between the inventor and the developer. Especially when inventions result from work done in the course of employment, the employer-business usually ends up owning the patent rights, and receives all or most of the royalties based on subsequent licensing activity.
In many cases, a developer will trade licenses with other companies -- called cross-licensing -- so that companies involved in the trade will benefit from each other's technology. For example, assume that two computer companies each own several patents on newly-developed remote-control techniques. Because each company would be strengthened by being able to use the other company's inventions as well as its own, the companies will most likely agree to swap permissions to use their respective inventions.
Typically, inventor-employees who invent in the course of their employment are bound by employment agreements that automatically assign all rights in the invention to the employer. While smart research and development companies give their inventors bonuses for valuable inventions, this is a matter of contract rather than law.
If there is no employment agreement, the inventor may retain the right to exploit the invention, but the employer is given a non-exclusive right to use the invention for its internal purposes (called shop rights). For example, Robert is a machinist in a machine shop and invents a new process for handling a particular type of metal. If Robert hasn't signed an employment agreement giving the shop all rights to the invention, Robert can patent and exploit the invention for himself. The shop, however, would retain the right to use the new process without having to pay Robert.
Who owns an invention developed by an employee while on the job? An employee who is engaged in research that could lead to patentable inventions typically signs a contract with his or her employer specifying that he or she will assign the exclusive rights in any invention to the employer. The employee may receive a bonus or a percentage of the profits earned by the invention. An inventor has the initial right to apply for a patent for an invention, even if the invention was created in the course of employment using employer resources.
The first and most important thing to know is to be wary of Invention Development Companies (IDCs). Many IDCs exists solely to prey upon inventors by giving them unrealistic promises of efforts that will be made to market their inventions.
There are a handful of legitimate organizations (in addition to patent attorneys and agents) that cater to inventors.
Large well-known U.S. companies routinely return invention submissions unread, typically enclosing a brochure explaining the company's unwillingness to consider any invention unless the inventor first signs a form agreeing to release the company from any obligations other than to pay for patent rights. With such companies it is unworkable to proceed without having filed a patent application on the invention.
A major reason that large companies operate in this way is that it prevents lawsuits. When an inventor discloses an invention, it is difficult to determine after the fact to what degree the information disclosed was a trade secret. Thus, if the company later uses any technology similar to the disclosed invention, the company may have a very difficult time proving that it the technology was not a trade secret stolen from the inventor. On the other hand, the boundaries of what is covered by a patent are relatively well-defined, and large companies have procedures for checking what patents they might be infringing.
Conversely, if the inventor has filed a patent application, he or she is in much better position to prevent a company to which he has disclosed the invention from using the invention without compensation.
Inventors should beware, however, that suing to enforce patent rights can be expensive, often costing tens of thousands of dollars or more. If the expected royalties or damages are smaller than the likely litigation costs, then a patent may provide little recourse against an infringer. If an infringer is found to be a knowing infringer, however, the court may choose to treble the damage award. Sometimes a patent attorney can be found who will offer to represent a patent owner in return for a share of the proceeds.
What does a patent do for me?
A patent is simply a license to sue. A patent grants its owner the right to stop others from "infringing" the patent by making, selling, or using the claimed invention without permission. Coverage does not rely on the accused infringer having copied or derived a product from what was patented – i.e., someone who thought the same thing up independently can still be an infringer. Conversely, someone who copies the basic idea behind a patented product but who comes up with another way of providing the end user with the same benefit is NOT necessarily an infringer. Patents generally only cover what they claim, and every patent is a challenge to other clever people to figure out a different, non-infringing, way of reaching the same goal.
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