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If your business relies on invention to gain competitive advantage, you need to keep the pipeline going even when funds are tight. A slow economy or other business disruptions don't mean you can ignore critical inventions. If you do not take steps to protect them in a timely manner, you may lose the right to file a patent application. This means that other companies can freely use your unique inventions in their own competing products.
For example, U.S. patent laws have time requirements for filing patent applications. If your company publishes an invention or sells a product containing the invention, these activities can trigger a one year deadline for filing a patent application. If you do not act before the one year deadline, you could lose your ability to be patented.
Don't let limited resources stop you from protecting important inventions. To get the most out of a tight budget, here is a three-tier system for protecting your most valuable inventions.
1. Invention discovery
Before you can take any action to protect your most important inventions, you must first identify each invention developed in your company. An important first step is teaching your team members how to identify the inventions they have created. An invention is defined in the Cambridge Dictionary as "something that has never been made before".
Some inventions are revolutionary new products that disrupt an industry. In my experience, most inventions are incremental improvements to an existing product or system. While the incremental inventions may not be as well known, they can still add significant value to your business.
One way to discover inventions is to identify obstacles that have been overcome during product development. In hindsight, the solutions to the obstacles may seem simple, but consider the amount of time it takes to develop the solution. If no solution was available and your team had to create a new solution, this is likely an invention.
Review your current work activities and recently completed projects to search for inventions. What was created that had not been done before? Add these items to your list of inventions.
Automate the invention process by discussing inventions on all product development projects. For example, schedule regular meetings to brainstorm the inventions in the project. It is easier to discover inventions when the project is still in the mind of the development team. Be sure to schedule a final meeting when the product is ready to make sure all inventions have been identified. Schedule regular brainstorming and idea generation sessions to capture more inventions and keep a steady flow of new ideas.
Now that you've made a list of inventions, it's time to identify the most valuable inventions on the list.
Related Topics: 9 Ways Your Business Can Promote Innovation
2. Invention Analysis
All inventions are not created equal. Because of this, it is important to analyze your list of inventions in order to select the most valuable items for your business. If you are on a budget, choosing the most valuable inventions will provide the best return on investment (ROI) for your business.
When analyzing your list of inventions, consider several factors to determine the value of each invention. For example, consider the competitive advantage. If you set yourself apart from other companies through a “must-have” function in your product, patenting this function is valuable, as your product has the exclusive rights for this function on the market.
Also consider factors such as the feasibility of implementing the invention, the likelihood of obtaining a patent, and a competitor's ability to work around the invention. If an invention is difficult to implement, it is better to wait until the invention is fully developed and tested. Some categories of inventions, such as certain software-related inventions, can be difficult to patent. If funds are limited, these inventions may not be the best candidates. And if an invention is easy for a competitor to devise, a patent covering the invention has little value.
After analyzing the list of inventions, identify the strongest candidates for patent protection. These top priority inventions should get your budgeted funds.
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3. Protection of Invention
You have two options for protecting your inventions. A “traditional” patent application has to meet various rules, content requirements, formatting requirements and legal guidelines. This type of patent application often costs $ 10,000 to $ 15,000 (depending on complexity) when prepared by a patent attorney.
When working on a tight budget, the other option to consider is a provisional patent application, which must meet the same disclosure requirements as the traditional application, but is much faster (and much cheaper) to make. Preliminary patent applications also have a significantly lower filing fee, often $ 2,500 to $ 4,000.
The preliminary patent application itself does not mature into a patent. Instead, the applicant has 12 months to decide whether to file a traditional patent application. During these 12 months you can test the invention in the market, find investors and see if your business revenues improve. At the end of the 12 month period, you can convert the provisional patent application into a traditional patent application or have the provisional patent application abandoned.
In some cases, you can combine multiple inventions into a single provisional patent application to further expand your budget. By combining multiple inventions into a single preliminary patent application, you can protect multiple important inventions while deferring a significant portion of the cost of patent preparation. Every situation is different. Discuss this option with a patent attorney to determine if it is appropriate for your inventions.
Don't neglect your inventions just because funds are scarce. Otherwise, you risk losing your ability to protect these inventions. Use the above system to identify your most valuable inventions and consider provisional patent applications to protect these critical assets.