Let’s talk about what ideas, inventions, and patents are – and how they differ!
Ideas, inventions, and patents belong together – and are important terms to understand when you invent – or consider a patent.
In this blog post, I want to introduce you to the terms by answering important questions that you may have – but also some that you may not know that you should ask.
The most burning question on your agenda is likely “What is a patent?” and “Do I need a patent?” will be much easier to answer after you read this post. But there are a lot of other questions that need answering before it makes sense to go there.
Heads up: Who is this blog post best for?
Please note that this blog post is for businesses or inventors who make physical products – products that have parts or ingredients or are processes or uses of such physical products.
If you are a business with online products, a writer, or an online course creator, you may want to read one of the blog articles in the category “
online products” instead.
But now – back to the content of this blog post.
It’s always good to start with the basic questions
So let’s do that. Let’s start with answering the
“Why should I be bothered?”-question… Why Protect Your Ideas and Inventions?
Protecting your ideas and inventions is essential for several reasons.
Ownership Firstly, it establishes your ownership of the idea or invention, making it easier to license, market, or sell what you protected. So it’s proof of ownership. Preventing loss of revenue Secondly, it prevents others from copying or stealing your invention, which can lead to a loss of revenue, reputation, and market share. Thus, it provides insurance against lost revenue. That’s why proactive protection is important Therefore, protecting your ideas and inventions can lead to significant financial gains as your invention becomes more valuable over time. What is an Idea?
You may wonder why I have chosen this question as my first one. However, if you are new to all this “patenting stuff” you may not know that what you patent is not our idea…
Spoiler alert: It’s your invention.
And to understand both, the question “What is an idea” is a good place to start.
An idea is a thought or concept that has not yet been realized.
It’s all in your head – ideas are merely thoughts
So putting it plainly: An idea is something that exists mainly inside your head (and maybe (in part) in a doodle or a plan that still needs to be realized or tested.
Which “type” of ideas does this include?
It could be a solution to a problem, a new product or service, or even a new way of doing things.
Ideas can concern pretty much anything – the development of physical products, designs, an idea for a book or play, a course curriculum, or a blog post.
As long as it does not exist outside your brain – and maybe only sparsely on paper in a way that only you understand – that doesn’t make sense to others (yet), your idea is not more than a thought…
💡The greatest business ideas are those with the potential to attract customers – and copycats💡
The greatest ideas are incredibly valuable – they are pretty much “invention babies” or “creation babies” – you know, they grow up to become real products or valuable assets. Maybe you could call them “adults” when they go from idea to something “real.”
However, ideas or thoughts are not protected by intellectual property rights and can be freely shared. So once they are out – they are out…
Thoughts can’t be owned, and you cannot control who else “has them”
I mean – how can you forbid others to think about something – something specific?
And how would you even know that they had that thought… Or how would you know that you are the first one ever to think it (if that was the criteria for owning it…)?
It’s not practical – and probably not ethical either- to make ideas or thoughts subject to ownership.
But one thing you can control is what you share – and with whom
Although you cannot own ideas or thoughts, you can protect them by keeping them to yourself.
Sharing your awesome business idea, marketing or sales plans, product names, or product ideas can be risky. Why? Because it could be “stolen” or inspire the person you share them with to do what you want to do – in their own way – or exactly like that in their own business.
And maybe they are better or faster at doing so; maybe they have more resources, a team, or experience to leave you behind in the dust?!
So it is important to be cautious…
→ The first tip 💡of the day concerning the protection of your ideas:
Any idea that adds to the value of your business or provides a competitive edge, or can develop into a customer magnet should be considered carefully before speaking to anyone about them in detail.
Let me give you an easy rule of thumb 👍 : → Only share what you can afford to lose.
Yes! I am serious!
Even if it’s “just” a friend, you are sharing insights with. Believe me – most conflicts about ideas and concepts are about trust that was broken.
This naturally leads to the next important question:
How to Protect Your Ideas and Inventions?
One way of protecting your ideas and inventions against abuse before filing, e.g., a patent application, is the use of confidentiality agreements.
Confidentiality agreements are legal documents that prevent others from disclosing or using your idea without your permission.
→ Tip 💡Don’t assume that an agreement can prevent all abuses:
Please understand that all agreements can be abused or broken.
Yet, having one and negotiating terms and boundaries before entering into a collaboration will force all players to think twice before entering an agreement, sharing information, and considering what they do – before potentially harming their collaboration partner.
→ Tip 💡Don’t miss out on rights by DIYing confidentiality agreements:
Don’t forget to consult a lawyer or intellectual property expert to ensure that the confidentiality agreement meets the necessary legal requirements and is enforceable in your country.
→ Keep your ideas secret 🤐 – if you can
Your ideas should not be shared without a clear agreement of confidentiality. And even then, you should never share more than what is absolutely necessary.
But what is even better for protection;
Treating your ideas and know-how as trade secrets until they are protected by intellectual property rights.
So, now that you understand that you best protect ideas by keeping them to yourself (or very, very close), let’s move on to inventions…
What is an invention?
In contrast to an idea, an invention was – once upon a time – a unique and novel idea – but now, it is more than that.
From a legal perspective, an invention is more protectable than an idea – because it has materialized the concept. It’s the result of an idea that has been nurtured, developed, and brought to life by human creativity and innovation.
If an idea is a “baby,” then an invention has transformed this baby into a “mature independent adult,” e.g., a physical product or process with its own unique attributes and characteristics.
It’s the culmination of hard work, much more than “just” trial and error, and tons of perseverance.
An invention can be anything from a new coffee machine to a life-saving medical device, from a clever tool to a revolutionary industrial process.
When an inventor creates something truly groundbreaking, they are adding to the world’s knowledge and pushing the boundaries of what is possible. But small improvements that seem less groundbreaking can have a huge commercial value too – and may therefore be worthwhile protecting.
So, an invention is not just an idea anymore but an idea that has become a reality and a valuable asset to society.
An invention can sometimes be patented – but an idea can not
An invention can be patented as it meets the requirements of being a concrete, practical application of an idea.
Let’s pause for a moment 🤔💭 An idea can not be patented because it’s thought “in your head.” An invention can because it is a practical application of an idea. It is no longer “just a thought.”
✅ Check – so far, so good.
So why can’t all inventions be patented?
There are many reasons, but one of them is that someone else could have invented the same thing – or something very similar but before you.
But this happens very frequently. Our genius ideas and inventions are not always that special at all. That’s why it is important to be thorough in your preparations before you hire a patent attorney and
spend a lot of money on figuring out that you are not “the first.” #bummer
On top of that, the law sets forth some very specific rules about what it requires the invention to be – or what it needs to be able to do to be worthy of being rewarded with an upgrade to a patent.
Are you ready to talk about what a patent actually is? Yes?
Let’s dive in then:
What is a patent?
Patents protect inventions and provide the inventor with exclusive rights to use, manufacture, and sell their invention for a certain period.
So what do they provide in one word? Monopoly!
Monopoly is usually not what society likes at all since it can prohibit fair competition. That’s why it is limited by the law to a specific period of time, often 20 years.
What does society get in return for “giving away” monopoly to some businesses?
They achieve the publication of innovative inventions and concepts that others can learn from. This knowledge sharing, through publication, triggers even more innovation, and society wins in the long run. If the innovators had kept things secret instead, this would not be possible.
How to get a patent?
The first step towards a patent is inventing something new that can be patented. The next step is, keeping the secret until it is protected by intellectual property rights. And then, you need to decide if it is the right way to protect your invention. There are different options for protecting inventions, but the most common one is; patenting it.
To get one, you need to apply for one. Let’s take a quick look at what needs to happen now:
What is a patent application?
A patent application is a request made by an inventor to protect their invention through a patent.
It describes the invention, how it works, and its unique features. It has to be described so clearly that others can understand whether or not they are making something that would infringe on the protected invention.
The patent application is filed at the national or international authority (Patent Office), where you wish to own exclusive rights to your invention in the future.
At the authority, the invention as described and defined in the patent application is analyzed by the examiner, who allows or rejects a grant based on the content of the application and its required parts.
The approval or rejection is based on the legal requirements and all known inventions disclosed up to the date the application was submitted to the Patent Office.
You don’t just get what you want – there is a negotiation (aka prosecution)
The process of getting a patent (prosecution) can be complicated and lengthy.
During this prosecution, the patent office examines your application to determine whether your invention is
novel, useful, and non-obvious.
If the patent office approves your application, you will be granted a patent.
If the patent office rejects your application, you can appeal the decision or amend your application and desired scope of protection in reply to the rejection received.
At some point during this discussion, there will likely be an agreement between you (your patent attorney), and the authority about what can be allowed relative to the contribution your invention brings to the already existing innovation, and a patent will be granted.
Is a patent a piece of paper?
It is a legal document, but you could also call it a certificate. It grants the inventor exclusive rights to use, manufacture, and sell their invention.
In some countries, you will get an electronic version confirming your intellectual property right (your patent right) with a serial number, your name or business details, details about the relevant dates (when it was filed, granted, published, etc.) – and in others, you will get a paper version per default.
The Document defines what the patent holder can prohibit others from doing commercially.
There is no infringement police 🚓🚔🚨 – unless you act as one yourself – which you should (for your protected inventions)
The patent holder is the person owning the patent and is the person (or business) who has to look for and stop the infringing competitors.
The owner may also license their invention to others for a fee or royalty, allowing the licensee to use the invention for a specific purpose, time, or territory.
How to “post” the application?
There are different types of application pathways, each providing a different range of protection across different countries.
The most common types of these patent application pathways include
national patents, European patents, and international patents. National patents
National patents are granted by national intellectual property offices and provide protection within a specific country, such as e.g. Denmark or the U.S.
🌏 Who are national applications best for? National patents are generally easier and cheaper to obtain, because the language barrier is lower and no translations are needed, compared to other patent types. Therfore these are often a good fit for small businesses operating in a single country. European patents
Are granted by the
European Patent Office (EPO) and provide protection in the countries that are members of the European Patent Convention (EPC) after paying fees for each of the member states you wish protection in. Some translations are required too, so there are additional costs and actions to consider compared to national applictaions.
The EPC is a treaty signed by many European countries, including
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom – and many more. 🌎 Who are these good for? Since the Eupoean pathway provides a wider range of protection options than the national ones they are suitable for businesses operating across multiple European countries. The international pathway
The international patent applications are also known as PCT applications. These are filed under the
Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) and provide a way to file a single application that can be extended to multiple countries (while writing this, the PCT has 157 member states across the globe).
There is no “world patent” – so don’t expect the PCT application to turn into a patent in all countries. The PCT application serves as a placeholer or entry pathway to postpone the time for deciding which country or region you would like to file a patent application in.
🌍Who is the international pathway good for? For businesses that operate globally and want to protect their invention in multiple countries. Or for small businesses who make innovation that large businesses would be interested in licensing. How to keep it alive? (aka maintenance)
Once your patent is granted, you need to maintain it by paying maintenance fees.
If you don’t it will be abandoned (it will die), and the invention will be available to everyone: you, me – and your competition. Every country or region has it’s own set of fees.
As an example: In Europe, maintenance fees are paid to the European Patent Office (EPO) or the national patent office, depending on where you are at in the application process or if you are at the maintenance stage after grant.