So you have an idea for a product and you think it is going to be the next big thing. The product may very well have the potential of being the next big thing, but it won’t unless you put in the effort necessary to bring the product to market. You can accomplish this by either licensing your idea to someone that produces the item or you can produce the item yourself. Regardless, you will need to develop a business plan that takes into account the costs of and the potential revenue that may be derived from your venture. You can get help for your invention from patenting agencies in this step.
The business plan should also include a sound strategy for developing your intellectual property, which can be your venture’s most important asset. The main focus often is on the patents, but there are other types of intellectual property that may be more appropriate or that may be used in conjunction with patents to maximize the value of the venture.
The types of intellectual property available include patents, trade secrets, trademarks, and copyrights. Patents protect a “process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter”. Trade secrets protect confidential information, including formulas, practices, processes, and compilations of information. Trademarks protect names to the extent that the names identify the source of a product or service and copyrights protect original works of authorship.
To better visualize the differences between these types of intellectual property, assume that your product is a new soft drink that you will market under the name So-Drink. The composition and the process for producing the soft drink may be protected by either patents or trade secrets. The name, So-Drink, the shape of the bottle, slogans, and logos can be protected by trademarks. The name, bottle, slogans, logos, web pages, marketing material, etc., may be copyright protected as well. In this instance, it would be best to develop as much of the intellectual property as the venture’s budget allows.
Not surprisingly, the cost necessary to develop intellectual property is a primary concern for most start-ups. In terms of overall costs, patents are probably the most expensive right to develop. There are, however, steps that you can take to lower the overall cost and to spread the cost over a longer period of time. For example, you can maintain certain aspects of the product as a trade secret before filing a patent application. Doing so, however, is not without substantial risk.
Taking advantage of provisional patent applications can also reduce your initial outlay and delay the cost of the utility application for twelve months. There are few formal requirements for provisional applications and they do not get examined, which makes them the most appropriate patent applications for pro se applicants to file themselves. Utility applications are examined and they have many formal requirements, which means that most applicants will have to consult with an attorney at some point. Because utility applications are limited by the initial disclosure, it is best if applicants are just starting out as an inventor to consult with an attorney before filing the utility application in order to avoid costly mistakes.