If you’re like many aspiring entrepreneurs, you may have asked yourself, “Should I get a patent for my business idea?”
Getting a patent is great for some, but odds are you’ll be wasting precious time and money.
First Of All, Your Idea Probably Can’t Be Patented
Simply put, a patent is a legally binding protection for an original invention, process, design, or chemical makeup.
Here’s what a patent is according to the US Patent and Trademark Office:
“Any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement.”
When I say original, I mean it must be a brand new idea. The USPTO clearly states that if you have sold, published, or produced this idea prior to filing for a patent, you are immediately ineligible.
What Else Can’t Be Patented
- Things that don’t exist yet
- Most mobile app ideas
- Things that are obvious
- Things that are slight improvements from something else
Patents Are Expensive
There are 3 major types of patents:
- Utility Patents make up 90% of all patents and protect the function of a process, machine, or invention.
- Design Patents protect the aesthetics of an object or invention.
- Plant Patents protects the chemical makeup of a genetically modified plant, or composition of matter.
The cost of obtaining a patent varies for each type, but it’s typical to pay $5,000 to $15,000. You have to pay for attorney fees, designing the patent, filing applications, and other fees that add up.
By the way, patents get denied all the time. If you don’t meet the criteria for a patent or if the USPTO denies you for any reason, you’ll still have to pay for those costs. All your work will have been for nothing.
Say you do get your great business idea patented, people will still try to rip off your idea. You’ll personally have to hunt down the person or company copying your idea and pay lawyers to try to get them to stop.
Realistically, patents are mostly used as a defense mechanism to stop other companies from getting in the way.
Getting A Patent Is Time Consuming
The process of getting a patent for your business is mind numbing. You have to deal with lawyers, designers, and government representatives. You can expect to wait anywhere from 12 months up to 4 years to receive a patent.
The process goes like this:
- Patent Search: 1-3 weeks. A specialized patent attorney goes through the patent database and determines if there’s any similar invention that already is patented.
- Application Drafting: 2-4 weeks. Your team of lawyers and designers are putting together your application for the patent that they’ll submit to the US Patent Office.
- Patent Pending: 12 months to 4 years. After the application is submitted, you’ll be stuck in the gears of American bureaucracy. Good luck with that.
Your Idea Is Untested
Having a patent for your business idea does not guarantee it will be successful. In fact, a USPTO study found that 97% of patents make less money than they cost to obtain.
Your idea is worth nothing if no one wants to buy it or use it.
If you want to pursue a business idea and make it successful, it needs to be viable. You must to go through the process of figuring out if your business idea is feasible.
Say you do file for a patent, we’ll pretend it took 1 year to get and $10,000 in costs. Can you imagine what you could have done in that time frame with that money to ensure this idea took off?
You could have done market testing. By asking real people, who may be potential customers, what they think of your idea, you’ll be getting valuable feedback on what exactly their needs are and how you should cater to them. If you need to go back to basics, check out my Beginner’s Guide to Sales and Marketing.
“But What If Someone Steals My Idea?”
If your biggest fear about starting a business is that someone might steal your idea, you probably aren’t cut out to be an entrepreneur.
Mark Cuban, billionaire entrepreneur and investor (you might know him from Shark Tank), knows that “ideas are a dime a dozen”.
Building a successful empire is less about the idea and more about the execution.
If someone steals your idea, so what? You’ve got to do the idea better. That’s capitalism for you.
You don’t need to go through the process of spending thousands of dollars on a patent, save your money and validate your idea.
Instead, brand the idea and get a trademark. Register your work as a copyright (if eligible). Be the first one to pursue this idea. In other words, be the first to market and do it better than anyone else.
Find Your “Special Sauce”
- Do the idea better, faster, cheaper, or with better service.
- Find and capitalize on what differentiates you from any other person who has this idea.
Maybe you are an expert marketer and can get this product off the ground better than anyone else. Perhaps you have industry relationships and have more experience than anyone else who would even try to pursue this idea.
Build a team of other people who believe in your idea and manage them to success. Make yourself the only person with the tenacity to stick with this idea until the end.
My point is, don’t waste your time with a patent if you don’t need one. Get out there and get your hands dirty, like a real entrepreneur.
This is a Guest post by Mark Meyer. He is the creator of The Saltwater CEO. He provides in-depth articles about digital marketing, entrepreneurship, sales techniques and more. Check out The Saltwater CEO for tips, tricks, and perspectives from an entrepreneur and lover of the ocean.