For independent inventors, a patent is a good way to protect your idea from big companies stealing it. However, they still may steal it so you have to be ready to defend your patent. Some people call a patent a license for litigation.
I enjoyed 17 years of protection on my NITELITE golfballs but before my patents were issued a company started producing lighted golfballs exactly like my golfballs. However, once my patents issued, my attorney prosecuted the infringing company in a foreign country and shut them down. The infringing company president told me that he did not believe I would get patent protection, and until I did, he would continue to make lighted golfballs. Sometimes you can expedite your case against an infringing company by getting action on your patent faster.
My first patent was on my Automatic Curveball but it was not easy to get. The patent examiner said there was prior art which means there was some other invention that was “teaching” my idea. This prior patent was a baseball marble game where the “ball” was a marble with a slice off of it. This ball was not thrown. It was rolled on the surface of the baseball board game. So I tracked down the owner of this marble ball patent and he was nice enough to state in writing that his marble ball baseball game did not teach anything about how my Automatic Curveball operated. Once I had that affidavit, my patent attorney was able to get my patent allowed and issued. So keep on fighting and never give up!
Some years ago I calculated the average time for all my patents to issue and it was 19 months. This may not be true today because of the number of patent examiners at the USPTO…..United States Patent and Trademark Office. I have heard patents can now take from 24 to 36 months.
Costs…….the first thing you need to do is search to find out if anyone has an idea similar to yours. You can do it yourself or have a patent attorney or patent agent do the search. The cost to do a search ranges from $350 to $1000 depending which patent attorney you go to. A world wide search will cost more than just a U.S.A. search. Once the search is done, you can then decide if you want to file a patent application. A provisional patent application will cost about $2000 plus the USPTO filing fee of $125.
A regular utility patent will cost between $3500 and $7,000 depending upon how complicated your invention is. Electronics, computers and software patent applications will cost more. USPTO filing fees will be about $530. A design patent application will cost about $900 plus the USPTO filing fee of $265. Drawings of your invention will run about $150 per page.
Once you or your patent attorney file your patent application, you then move to the prosecution phase with official actions and amendments. Your claims are the bullets that make your patent strong. Usually there are arguments about how many bullets or claims that you are entitled to. These amendments will cost about $800 to $2000 depending on how complicated your amendments are.
Finally, if you are lucky, the USPTO will issue a Notice of Allowance. Then formal drawings will be made and you must pay an issue fee of about $685. You will be billed for more attorney time also.
Maintenance fees……someone at the USPTO thought this would be a great way to make more money from inventors. Just because you have your patent does not mean you do not have to keep paying for it. These fees can run approx. $3,000 to $6,000 depending if you are a small entity or a large entity and they are not just a one time fee so get ready to keep maintaining your patent.
Timing…..as a rough time line, a search can take from one week to 6 weeks. Your application preparation may take 3 to 8 weeks. Prosecution phase may take 18 to 24 months and the issue phase may take from 3 to 9 months. Today your patent protection runs for 20 years from the day you file your patent application as compared the the 17 years it used to be from the date your patent issued.
Patents are a great way to protect your idea but take time and cost money. There are several other ways to protect your ideas which I will be happy to discuss with you. My next subject will be HOW TO TEST YOUR IDEA TO SEE IF YOU HAVE A WINNER!$
After you scream Eureka! ( or something else) when the hottest idea since sliced bread and peanut butter pops out of your head, you need to build a prototype or model so you can show people who do not have your vision exactly what your idea looks like. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on a prototype. You want to have a model which you can use to show family, friends, buyers and investors how your idea functions. You can use existing products to make your prototype or you may want to invest in an inexpensive mold to make your idea even more realistic. You don’t have to make an expensive steel injection mold. There are many prototype companies in the USA who can build one for you.
When I made my first prototypes of my NITELITE golfball, I went to a machine shop with a polycarbonate 2 inch rod. The machinist then made some round balls the size of golfballs on his lathe and drilled one hole in each ball for a lightstick. These balls did not have dimples, but I wanted to see just how much light a lightstick would produce emitting from inside the ball. One night I took a fungo bat and hit the daylights out of these prototype golf balls That was the first time I had ever seen a working prototype of a lighted golfball. I was pretty darn excited and knew exactly what my next step was. I had golfball molds made as fast as possible and introduced the NITELITE golfballs at the 1986 PGA golf show in Orlando, Florida where it took off like a rocket to the moon.
In 1975 my brothers and I were on a beach in Florida playing touch football with some girls. Someone asked me what we were going to do that night and I said “keep on playing touch football with the girls.” Someone then asked, “How are we going to see the football?” I said, “Light it up!” We did not light it up that night but when we got home to N.H., I made a prototype from an existing hollow, plastic football with holes in it. I threaded a metal rod through the length of the football and secured it with wing nuts. A small flashlight was then attached to the rod. My brothers and I then went outdoors at night in January with three feet of snow on the ground and played our first game of NITELITE tackle football. I found a company to make the footballs, introduced them at the National Sporting Goods show and started making touchdowns.
My Dad was signed by St. Louis as a pitcher and played in the minor leagues in Texas. He had a great curveball and he told me that if I could make a baseball that was easy to throw a curve with, every hitter in the USA would buy some. I went to work making almost 60 prototypes. I did everything to a baseball that I could think of. I added all kinds of things to baseballs to help make them curve. I also removed pieces from baseballs to make them curve. One day I threw one of my prototypes to my Dad and he said, “How the heck did you throw that curve!?” That was the instant that the AUTOMATIC CURVEBALL was born. Molds were made as fast as possible and soon curveballs were flying out the door. During spring training one year, 14 Major League teams bought these amazing baseballs and that led to selling thousands of curveballs to high schools and colleges.
Prototypes have a series of evolutions. You will make your prototype and then a day or a week later, you will think of how to improve it. Or someone may suggest how you can improve it. Pretty soon your beat up Ford- like prototype turns into a beautiful Cadillac and you are off to the races. A prototype saves time in trying to explain your idea to people and will make your selling job a lot easier. Drawings are good but they are not nearly as good as a working model. I always say that C.N. Is Believing! (seeing is believing!) People love it when they don’t have to think so the best thing to do is do their thinking for them. It will help you get from A to B a lot faster with a lot less blood, sweat and tears in a lot less time.
Next week I will talk about Do You Need a Patent and How To Get One?
Until then, go full speed because you never know if you will be given 2 innings or 9. Keep swinging, watch the spin and you will hit your homeruns!