TRAVERSE CITY — Entrepreneurs commonly ask if they should seek a patent to help protect their business idea or invention.
Patents can be an important asset for a business because they allow you to prevent others from making, using, or selling your invention. However, the patent process can be complex, time-consuming and expensive. As a result, a patent is not always the best or most practical option.
There are two basic types of patents — design and utility patents. Design patents cover the aesthetic aspects of a product and have a life of 14 years. Utility patents cover the structural and functional aspects of an invention and have a life of 20 years. Utility patents can cover manufactured products, machines, chemical compositions, and manufacturing and business methods (including software). Patents are not renewable.
The cost of obtaining a patent includes patent office fees and attorney fees. It is not uncommon for a straightforward utility patent to cost $10,000. Complex inventions, software, and business method patents can cost much more. Design patents can sometimes be obtained for as little as $1,000, but may cost more.
If protection is needed in countries other than the U.S., separate applications and additional costs apply. In addition to the costs of obtaining a patent, it can be very expensive to enforce it through litigation. If you are not willing and able to enforce your patent, it may have limited value.
Before using your invention in your business, be sure it does not infringe upon an earlier patent. You should consult with a registered patent attorney to obtain a written patent infringement opinion, which can also determine whether your invention is patentable.
You do not necessarily need to patent an invention to use it in your business, but a patent can be valuable when it is important to prevent competitors from using the invention. You will also need a patent if you intend to sell or license your invention. The scope of patent protection will vary depending on the size of the improvement the invention represents.
If you are considering a patent, it’s important to complete a careful analysis of its expected scope, cost, and financial benefit to your business. You can then make an informed decision based on the opinion and advice of a patent professional.
For further guidance on starting and growing your small business, contact Traverse City SCORE at 888-796-4913 or visit www.UpNorthScore.com to schedule a free and confidential appointment with an experienced SCORE mentor.
Ed Ketterer is a retired patent, trademark and copyright attorney, and a certified volunteer mentor with Traverse City SCORE.