If your invention could revolutionize the industry, patenting it might be worth exploring. But before filing, it’s essential to learn about patents and which patent type is most suitable for your hardware innovation.
Hardware companies must carefully balance their business interests with robustness. This involves considering patent prosecution costs, patentability, and the ease of protecting various designs and products as well as any damages that could be awarded in case of infringement.
Computers, monitors, printers and other devices that connect to a computer are examples of hardware products. These physical components help the device function efficiently and produce useful output, such as information or documents.
Software is a set of instructions or programs that tell the hardware what to do and when to do it. These instructions are often written in machine-readable language, so computers can read them and execute them.
The primary difference between software and hardware is that hardware can only do so much. However, the interaction between these two elements is essential to the operation of a business or other organization.
Many hardware startups don’t pursue design patents because they are worried that it will be too costly or that they will have to spend too much time on the legal work. However, if you do decide to seek design patents it is important to get them early in the development process to protect your product from being copied by your competition.
Why Do Hardware Design Patents Matter?
Whether you are an inventor or a hardware startup, protecting your intellectual property (IP) rights is crucial to your success. Without protection, your invention could be easily stolen or misused by competitors.
One of the most important reasons to secure a design patent is to prevent your invention from being copied by competitors who may use the same or similar technology. In addition, design patents offer a high level of protection for your hardware designs and aesthetics, which can be valuable for the long term.
The first step is to understand what type of patents are applicable to your invention and how best to protect them. Generally speaking, there are two types of patents that can be used to protect a new hardware product: utility patents and design patents.
Utility patents – The most common type of patent, utility patents cover new and useful machines, manufactures, processes and compositions of matter that improve on the process or use of existing technology.
Design patents – The second type of patent, design patents are often used to protect ornamental aspects of new hardware products and their overall appearance. Unlike utility patents, which cover functional aspects of an invention, design patents can protect a wide range of distinctive features, including fonts, shapes, and user interface designs.
Identify Your Invention
Identification is the initial step in applying for a patent. Whether it’s an innovative business idea or hardware product, you need to identify your invention and demonstrate that it meets certain criteria in order to be protected.
Once you’ve identified your invention, it’s time to do some research. The best place to start is the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database. Alternatively, search engines can help you uncover existing patents that might be applicable to your innovation.
Next, you should search for any publications, presentations, sales brochures and patent applications related to your invention. These are known as prior art and can be crucial in determining whether your creation qualifies for a patent.
Furthermore, you should search for any patented products or devices similar to yours. These could include items like scissors, sewing machines, and even robotic arms.
Finally, you must decide whether you want to file a regular patent application or a provisional patent application. Ultimately, this decision comes down to your budget and the level of protection needed.
If you need to hire a patent attorney, make sure they are knowledgeable in your field of expertise. A qualified lawyer will assess whether your invention merits patenting and guarantee that the application is filed accurately.
A patent application can be a lengthy and laborious process, but it’s an investment that pays off in the end. To ensure successful outcomes, research the process before applying for one and document every step along the way.
Be sure to document all changes made to your invention, as well as how originally imagined. Do this by keeping a journal and having two reliable witnesses sign it.
Before applying for a patent, it’s wise to test your invention. Doing so can give you an insight into its inner workings and enable further refinement as you continue working on it.
Create a Prototype
Prototypes are an essential step in the invention process, as they enable inventors to test their ideas and ensure they work. Furthermore, prototypes provide an invaluable opportunity for gathering feedback from potential customers or investors.
Prototyping can take many forms, from low-fidelity sketches to highly detailed drawings. Each has its advantages and drawbacks depending on your requirements.
Pencil-and-paper prototypes are an efficient and economical way to get your ideas down on paper quickly. Plus, they’re flexible enough for anyone with basic drawing skills to work on the design from anywhere.
Though they may not be as precise as digital prototypes, physical prototypes still provide a useful way to test your concept and see how it appears in real life. Furthermore, you can use them to help visualize the finer points of your final product.
Prototyping is also an excellent way to test out material choices and ensure they will hold up in the long run. For instance, creating a non-working prototype using foam or another inexpensive material will enable you to see how well your design functions in practice.
Early stage prototypes often use cheaper materials than later versions to save money while correcting design flaws. This is an efficient way to detect problems before they become too large and costly to fix.
Working prototypes are an invaluable asset when testing mechanized inventions and designs with features that must move or fit precisely. They’re also great for showcasing your design to others, such as fellow designers or managers, so that others can assess its feasibility.
High-fidelity prototypes are typically created using a computer program and tend to be more detailed and precise than pencil-and-paper prototypes, though they can take more time to construct. Create a high-fidelity prototype using either a 3D printer or rapid prototyping service. These services also offer stereo lithography, which produces plastic models from digital drawings.
Prototyping your design before filing a patent application is an ideal way to guarantee its flawlessness. Not only will this help identify any flaws that need fixing before filing the application, but it also gives your patent attorney more details about your invention that they can use when reviewing it.
File a Patent Application
If you have developed a breakthrough technology and wish to protect it, applying for a patent is your best bet. A patent grants you the legal right to prevent others from making, using, selling or importing your invention for an agreed-upon period of time. A patent can cover anything from products and processes to designs – or any combination thereof!
A patent application should contain a detailed description of your invention and claims demonstrating its workings. This part of your application is essential as it will inform the patent examiner whether your innovation is novel, socially and beneficially useful, non-obvious and reduced to practice.
Once submitted, your patent application will be reviewed by the USPTO for consideration, which may necessitate additional information or an amendment to your patent. Typically, this review is completed within a few months; however, depending on how complex your invention may be, it could take longer.
When filing your patent application, be sure to adhere to all instructions and pay the fees on time. Failing to do so could incur a late surcharge which will increase the overall cost of your patent.
A utility patent is the most common type of patent, protecting inventions with a specific function. It can also be used to safeguard software. A utility patent not only safeguards your invention’s functional aspects, but it can help shield you from lawsuits for patent infringement by other product manufacturers. If someone creates a product that infringes upon your patent, you can sue them for damages.
Filing a patent application can be done online or via mail, with the latter being the most economical option. Submitting your application through USPTO’s Patent Center allows you to pay all associated filing, search and examination fees at once.
If you are uncertain about your patent requirements, consult an experienced patent attorney. They can guide you through the process and assist in selecting the correct type of patent for your invention.
You can file your patent application either through the USPTO’s website or by mail. In either case, attach a stamped, self-addressed postcard to your documents so the USPTO can track their receipt and notify you when they have been received.
Example of a hardware design patent is the Autonomous personal service robot
License Your Invention
Licensing your invention can be a great way to turn your ideas into profitable businesses. But it is essential that you do your due diligence and select the correct partner. Not doing so could cost you more in legal fees and headache medication than necessary, so be sure to do some research before signing over any rights.
Inventors often opt to license their inventions to others due to a lack of financial resources to manufacture and market the item themselves. Alternatively, they may have an excellent idea but lack the expertise or experience required to develop and market it effectively. Liens provide an easy solution for turning an idea into a lucrative business without the hassle or expense of developing and manufacturing everything yourself.
Inventors typically license their inventions through exclusive licensing or by selling all rights to the invention for cash. The most popular option is an exclusive licensing deal, in which one company receives exclusive rights to manufacture, use and sell your invention. This has the advantage of protecting your patent which makes it difficult for competitors to copy your idea.
When selecting a license, it’s important to consider its terms and conditions. A suitable licensing agreement should include an accurate payment structure as well as specific rights granted to the licensee as well as any legal details such as how your patented invention should be used, sold or made.
The second option is to license your invention for royalty payments, in which a company pays you a certain percentage of sales resulting from your invention. Royalties typically range between 5%-20% of each product’s sale price depending on how much of your invention is utilized by its licensee.
You can license your invention for royalties through contingent fee brokers, who market inventions to manufacturers and receive payment if the products sell. Always check a broker’s credentials with the Better Business Bureau and United Inventors Association before signing any agreements.