By Haydn Evans

Protecting an invention can be crucial for business competitive advantage. Obtaining IP rights not only helps innovators to secure future investment, but can help secure product margins and drive business growth. Yet many businesses still do not know how to protect their ideas and how to determine which are the most valuable.

Ideas matter, protect them

Applying for and obtaining a patent can be one of the best business decisions an inventor will make. A patent gives inventors the legal right to stop others from copying, manufacturing, selling or importing their invention without permission – for up to 20 years.

Holding exclusive rights also means patents can be licensed to others – generating further revenues. Some businesses have ascertained that their strength is in research and innovation rather than production and their income is largely generated from the royalties from a licensed patent portfolio – often in combination with registered designs and trademarks.

Protecting ideas with patents is a savvy business move, but for the inexperienced – the application process can be complex.

Preparation is key

There can be significant costs associated with a filing. Even without an attorney – or the use of professionally prepared patent drawings – it can cost approximately $1,500 in fees to file and obtain a patent from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Before starting the patent application process, an inventor needs to first consider whether an idea qualifies for protection. By conducting a patent search and obtaining professional guidance from a patent attorney, inventors will be able to determine whether it makes sense to move forward and what, if any, rights could be granted.

To complete the filing process the inventor should be able to describe all aspects of the idea. This may seem relatively simple, but a patent needs to fully describe an invention to the level that the invention could be repeated by someone with the appropriate skills.

To speed up the filing process, inventors should try and record every step of the invention process, describing and drawing diagrams of every aspect and modification of the invention – even recording how the idea materialised in the first place.  By documenting these efforts, inventors will be armed with the most accurate information for their patent application. Depending on the invention type, it may also be worthwhile building and testing a prototype before filing for a patent.

File away

With all of the information to hand, inventors can then apply for a patent with their local patent office. Patents are territorial rights and are only applicable in the countries where patents have been granted.  Entrepreneurs should consider which countries are important to them and where they will be trading in the future.

At the point of filing, the idea is often described as “patent pending”. After the filing process is complete the patent offices where the filing has been made will examine the idea. This process typically takes 2-3 years but during this time an inventor can still inform others that they have sought patent protection.

The power of patents

Today’s entrepreneurs have a lot to do to ensure competitive advantage: establish a business; analyse which markets are relevant; protect ideas; establish funding; grow internationally; and recruit the right people. Inventors and businesses cannot ignore the important role of IP protection and establishing the viability of idea protection to their business as quickly and early as possible. This is one of the most effective ways to build long term value.

Haydn Evans is Global Director Planning and Insights for CPA Global – a leading partner to thousands of organisations throughout the world providing innovative technology and service solutions across the IP lifecycle. Hayden has 20 years’ experience in the IP industry and has worked with many of the world’s largest multinationals in technology, electronics, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology – as well as law firms – helping find solutions to their IP challenges. Previously Haydn was IP Strategy Manager for GE where he was involved in corporate portfolio strategy and the alignment of GE’s IP and business processes.