How to Patent an Idea

January 20th, 2020 ‧ 6 min read

When it comes to intellectual property, everyone seems to have heard of patents, but not as many people actually have a clear understanding of the basics behind this legal right.

Therefore, we have decided to take a closer look at some of the most common patent-related questions and concerns, and provide our answers to them as follows.

Table of contents

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Can You Patent an Idea?

Technically speaking, no, you cannot patent an idea. In other words, an idea on its own will not receive a patent.

However, an idea can be patented once it has become an invention and a patent application containing the invention is filed with the USPTO.

Yet, it should be noted that not every idea can be turned into an invention. To explain, in order for an invention to receive a patent, it must be novel, nonobvious, and useful, at the very minimum.

So, though you may have a great idea for an invention, if it does not meet the above criteria (novel, nonobvious, and useful), it will not receive a patent.
For example, you may have a great idea for an invention–let’s say a time machine. But unless you could show that it actually works, it will not be eligible to receive a patent.

Clearly understanding the differences between an idea and an invention is critical, and finding out everything you can about patents before you even consider filing an application for one will save you time, money, and effort.

What Kind of Patents Are There?

There are three main types of patents: utility, design, and plant patents.
Of these, utility patents are the type that most inventors usually apply for.

  • Utility: A utility patent protects the creation of new or improved products, processes, compositions of matter, or machines that are useful.
  • Design: A design patent protects an ornamental design on a useful item.
  • Plant: A plant patent protects new kinds of plants produced by cuttings or other nonsexual means.

What Does a Utility Patent Protect?

As mentioned above, there are 3 main types of patents, but the most common type is a utility patent.
A utility patent provides protection for the following:

  1. A process. A process is any combination of steps or methods (e.g., business processes, software).
  2. A machine. A machine is a combination of moving parts. (e.g., engines or computers)
  3. An article of manufacture. Also known as a “manufacture,” this is a production of materials to make something new. (e.g., shovels, gloves, shoes)
  4. A composition of matter. A composition of matter could be compositions of two or more substances and all composite articles. (e.g., pharmaceuticals, gases)

Nowadays, many inventions cannot be clearly categorized into certain types of patents. In fact, many new inventions may be a combination of these categories.
Therefore, if your invention does not fall into these 4 categories or one of the other types of patents, then it may be possible that your invention is still just an idea.

Is My Invention Patentable? (The Importance of a Patentability Search)

Before you even start to consider moving forward with the patent-filing process, it is important to determine if your invention is actually even patentable or not. Fortunately, this can be done by conducting a patentability search.
patentability search is a type of patent search that gives you valuable information about whether your invention qualifies for a patent by comparing your invention with prior art–“prior art” is simply the term for evidence that your invention already is known or exists. Try out our patent search tool for a patentability search!
Basically speaking, the purpose of this type of search is to make sure that your invention does not already exist.
As mentioned earlier, your invention will be evaluated based on the following patent requirements:

  1. Novelty: The invention must be totally new, meaning that it has never appeared in any publication or been shown to the public.
  2. Non-obviousness: A non-obvious invention is one that someone of ordinary skill in the relevant field could not have easily come up based on the existing prior art.
  3. Useful: The invention must have a useful purpose.

What Does It Cost to Patent an Idea?

Costs for a patent can range from a few hundred dollars for small, individual inventors who are using budget tools all the way up to thousands of dollars for more complicated or technically complex inventions.
Patent costs also vary depending on the type of patent that is being applied for.
Generally speaking, filing for a patent can cost from US$5,000 to $15,000.

Read to understand more about how much a patent cost!

What Is a Provisional Patent Application (and Should I Consider Filing One)?

A provisional patent application is an informal application that allows you to file without a formal patent claim, oath or declaration, or any information disclosure (prior art) statement. It provides the applicant “patent pending” status, which allows the applicant to better prepare for the actual document. The applicant, however, must follow up with a nonprovisional patent application within 1 year.

Provisional patent applications are popular among some start-ups and smaller entities and inventors, and they may be a good option for those with limited budgets and resources who still want to receive some form of patent protection.

Interested in finding out the benefit and everything about a provisional patent application? Read to find out more!

What Should I Do to Prepare for a Formal Patent Application?

First of all, you must be ready to provide a specification of the invention, since this determines the protection of the invention.
The specification includes an abstract, background, summary, a detailed description, prior art, and your conclusion, including the ramifications and scope.

Conducting a patentablity search and make sure your idea and invention is novel and non-obvious is the first step to apply for a patent application. You can always conduct a budget friendly patentability search on your own with Patent Search.

Sign up and start your search for free!

In addition, defining the legal scope of your patent is another important step that must be done, and hiring an experienced patent attorney to handle this is likely your best bet.


The above questions and answers are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to patents and the many benefits they provide, and we look forward to answering even more questions about this important form of IP protection in future articles.
The key takeaway from this article is that only an idea that has become a novel, nonobvious, and useful invention will be able to receive a patent.
One last note–the patent application process can take up to 3 years to complete, so you should be sure you are familiar with the process and fully prepared for it, before investing your time, money, and effort in this.

Filing a patent is extremely complex. You always utilizing Patentcloud’s Patent Search for research and analysis; however, seeking for professionals for legal support is always a better option.

Contact Wispro, an IP law firm formed by experienced lawyers with professional industry background, for any legal and IP related services!

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