How do I patent a jump-to-conclusions mat type thing?
June 16, 2006 2:27 PM   Subscribe

How do I patent a product that I know can be made but can't do it myself?

I got an idea for an electronic device during one of my post-work happy hour conversations. At first it was just a silly idea but it seems like something that would be highly marketable the more I think about it. I've talked to a few close friends about it and everyone thinks it has a lot of potential. I (personally) don't have the technological know-how to make this but I know that it can be easily done and mass produced quite cheaply for sold for under $25.

My questions are:

1) Is there any way to patent the idea/concept without actually building a working prototype?

2) If I have no choice but to build one (and describe it), are there companies that would build me one without stealing my idea?

Bonus: Did anyone actually make (and sell) the jump to conclusions mat?
posted by special-k to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: that would be & sold for under $25
bad kitty
posted by special-k at 2:30 PM on June 16, 2006

Best answer: Short answer: no-one wants your invention, patents are expensive, and you are not a special unique snowflake.
posted by reklaw at 2:49 PM on June 16, 2006 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You don't need a prototype to get a patent. You should be able to describe the design such that an expert in the field would be able to understand your description and build your device.

You do need either (a) hundreds and hundreds of hours of free time or (b) a patent agent or patent attorney. There might be a way to do the process on the cheap (especially if you're willing to spend a lot of time learning about the process and researching what needs to be done), but to do it the way I've seen it done, you should be ready to throw in about $10,000.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:50 PM on June 16, 2006

Best answer: You might consider looking into filing a provisional patent, which can be done much more quickly and cheaply, and which doesn't need to be nearly as bulletproof as your final application. The provisional gives you 12 months of protection in which to find a manufacturer, purchaser, partner, etc. You wouldn't have to worry about anyone stealing your idea in this time, and you could file for the real thing once you've secured funding. I don't know quite as much about the costs of getting a provisional out, but I wouldn't be surprised if it could be done for less than $1000.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:59 PM on June 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

Can you patent an idea that came from the movie Office Space?

I don't think so.
posted by o0o0o at 3:19 PM on June 16, 2006

Response by poster: o0o0o: That was a joke. I'm not going to patent the jump to conclusions mat.
posted by special-k at 3:42 PM on June 16, 2006

Important note about the provisional patent:
If you don't file a non-provisional patent application before your 12 months expire you lose rights to the invention. And provisional's only work if you're filing for a utility patent. So design and plant patents are right out.

Can you patent an idea that came from the movie Office Space?

I don't think so.

I seem to remember reading somewhere that a patent for a water bed was rejected based on Robert Heinlein's description of one in "Stranger in a Strangeland".

Damn authors and their prior art.
posted by lilnemo at 3:43 PM on June 16, 2006

Best answer: A provisonal patent costs $100 to file for a "small entity". If you want to go it alone get the NOLO book on patents. It gives you all the information on doing it alone.
posted by blueyellow at 4:17 PM on June 16, 2006

Contact your local PTDL. Hell, drop in and conduct an actual patent search before you drop cash into applying for the Non-Provisional. Its free after all (the search not the app) you only pay for copies.
posted by lilnemo at 5:05 PM on June 16, 2006

Patents may not protect you like you might hope. Don Lancaster suggests some pragmatic alternatives. Basically, patents are only worth anything if you have the lawyer fees it takes to defend them. And maybe not even then. The site's a little scruffy but the info is good.
posted by flickroad at 6:56 PM on June 16, 2006

I would agree that having a patent is mostly purposeless unless you have the kind of dough necessary to sue those who copy you. It's like taking out your own personal law that you must supply wages for officers to enforce it. The law might be on the books, but if there's no officers (or, lawyers to sue with) then it may not even get enforced. Chances are the only ones worth your money for filing suit would be those who make oodles of cash from it, not the hobbyist version.
posted by vanoakenfold at 9:46 PM on June 16, 2006

Take a look at Read Harvey's book. He focuses less on patenting an idea than on being first-to-market.
posted by megatherium at 5:55 AM on June 17, 2006

flickroad, thanks for the link to Don Lancaster's page, looks great! I don't think I saw any pragmatic alternatives, other than just not patenting, though. Also, on superficial scanning, and as much as I hate to say it, there is one pro patent argument being missed: they are good for marketing, at least in some circles.
posted by Chuckles at 3:28 PM on June 17, 2006

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