Many small business owners have thought of becoming more aggressive in protecting their intellectual property rights. Although attorney's fees are always expensive, patent rights have become more important with each passing year. For many companies, a patent portfolio serves as a type of insurance that has small chance of having a great potential upside.
Here are a few tips for those getting their feet wet.
1. If someone at your company has an idea that may be patentable, act quickly. You can lose rights by disclosing the idea publicly or by offering it for sale before filing for a patent application. This type of disclosure can even occur before you make any engineering drawings or working models.
2. Try to keep records that help establish the novelty of the invention and the date of conception. This evidence may be important at a later date -- especially if there is any delay in filing for patent protection.
3. Before you hire a patent attorney, bone up on the subject -- Read the book “Patents and How to Get One.” It is very short and is a great book to read on your next business trip.
4. Retain a patent attorney to discuss your issues, to help you decide whether to file any patent applications, and then to help with the preparation and prosecution of the patent applications. Even if you are only filing a single patent application, the relationship with your patent attorney will likely last many years. Thus, it is important to find a patent attorney and law firm that you can trust and that are comfortable with. Get references.
5. When thinking about your potential inventions, remember that you can obtain patents on devices as well as methods. Methods, for example, may include methods of manufacturing an item, methods of doing business, methods of using a device, and process flow methods that describe the flow of data in a piece of software. (Merely a few examples.)
These tips are valid for almost any company that is starting down the road of patenting. However, every case is different. You should raise any concerns with your attorney.
Once you have applied for several patents, you will then begin to think about patent portfolio management, licensing and other forms of patent enforcement. However, that discussion is for another day.