Disclaimer: I am not a patent lawyer and therefore any advice given in this tutorial is intended as general information for prospective inventors. It is a simplified guide to begin the process, not a detailed or comprehensive essay which is needed to patent new and useful products, methods and ideas.
Knees and Paws are a four piece set of plush hand and knee coverings for children who love to imitate cats and dogs. When people ask what I do for a living these days, I sometimes just say "I make paws." Depending on the person's level of interest, I might say something like, "I work from my home developing and marketing my patent pending children's product." If they're still listening after that mouthful, and ask what kind of product it is, then I offer the name Knees and Paws and describe them using a little more detail and mention my website. For the first month or so of doing this, it felt awkward to talk about my new endeavor. But with practice I find that I enjoy sharing the story of how I started this business. Recently, my brother asked if I might send him a summary of basic knowledge about the patent process for a friend who is thinking of patenting. So here are a few things to consider.
First, I believe that inside every inventor there is a silent, confident knowledge that the idea they are holding is meant to be manifested through them. What I mean to say is that inventors believe that that the structure, form and idea of their invention is absolutely new and useful and could make a positive impact for small or large groups of people, and that they are the ones to make it a reality. Perhaps you have a fantastic idea but are intimidated by the cost of licences, manufacture, legal fees, etc. Many great ideas can stall due to the inventor's anxiety. I carry a little of this anxiety with me every day. However, the helpful advice that allowed me to take some big risky steps came from a book called Patent Pending in 24 Hours by David Pressman and Richard Stim. They are patent lawyers who suceed in inspiring the most timid of inventors by breaking the process down into doable tasks. Of course, you could also begin by going to the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) website, http://www.uspto.gov/ but I suggest starting with Pressman's book and using the government website for searching prior patents and for forms and filing fee information.
Second, start keeping an inventors notebook if you haven't already. Perhaps you have several and I'm stating the obvious. Pressman and Stim insist upon keeping one in the event that there is ever a dispute that winds up in court. Write down all of your ideas. The notebook will also be a great help to you when the time comes for you to write your specification, which you'll need for your regular patent licence. A note about time:
Legally, a person must file a provisional patent application within one year of offering their invention for sale. Once the provisional patent application is filed, the inventor has one year to develop the invention before filing for a regular patent. So far, I am in the sixth month of my provisional patent and will be writing the regular patent very soon. Even though I have only sold two complete sets of Knees and Paws, it is my intention and belief that if I don't do this, someone else will with huge success. I'm also a pretty stubborn person, which in this case is a beneficial quality.
Third, work on structuring a written argument for your invention. Remember the most demanding English professor or teacher you had that made you want to scream? Write it for her (no offense Heather). You need to make an argument for the who, what, where, why, and how of your idea. The WHY that you are trying to prove is that your invention is new and useful. In a provisional application, you might research databases and compare your invention to something called prior art. Here's where the USPTO website is helpful. They maintain a database of inventions past that you can browse by subject. For example, I made my comparisons to three inventions that were similar to mine but argued that mine were useful in a different way. My knee pads and hand coverings were not for sports protection, but for very young children who wanted sensory stimulation (plush material that looks and feels like fur), flexibility, and something that was easy to wear.
Fourth, draw pictures. Pictures are a necessity and if you are adverse to drawing by hand, find a way to do this on the computer. (I did mine by hand but since my structures were simple, they were sufficient). The pictures will be a part of your specification that will help you describe how to make your invention, which is a neccessary part of your application. You must not only describe what your invention is, but how it is made and what materials are needed. The great thing about starting with a provisional patent application is that you can continue to tinker with the invention as new ideas come into your head.
Fifth, once you have a good working rough draft on your specification, think about your title. The title for your invention will probably be much different from the title you use to market your product. For example, my invention title is "A set of hand and knee coverings for children imitating four legged animals" but my product is called "Knees and Paws." The title can be as long as you like because it must describe the thing in succinct but informative language. Instead of saying "improved mouse trap" you need to get really specific, such as "device to choke the life out of small rodents improving the experience of death for the creature by reducing suffering" or something to that effect.
Sixth, you may hand write everything neatly in black ink, but I suggest using a computer, making several copies and keeping your copies in a fire safe box.
Seven, be sure to fill out and include the neccessary forms found on the USPTO website. I discovered that I only needed two forms, which were the Provisional application cover sheet and a fee tranmittal form. Also be sure to include the fee, which if you qualify for small entity status, is $110.00 for a provisional application. Important note: In Pressman's book, the address to send the application is wrong. The new USPTO address is
Commissioner for Patents
P.O. Box 1450
Alexandria, VA 22313-1450
I sent my completed application in a USPS express mail envelope, which was pricey at 17.50, but if you use express mail, you can use the mailing date as the date you filed. If you feel like you might be in competition with another inventor, then this is the way to go. I think I was just really excited.
A few weeks after I filed, I recieved an official letter with my licence number and the magic word "granted." This number is the one I will use when I go forward with my regular patent licence which I plan to file internationally.