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The Basics of Patents and How to Protect Your Idea

Picture this: you have an idea for a new product, something that solves an issue you have been dealing with perhaps, and you think this product could be helpful to a larger audience. The product is something that you believe will revolutionize whatever task you want it to satisfy, but you are not entirely sure if the product has ever been designed before. The best way to determine if your product truly is new is to look at the patents that exist for similar designs.

First of all, what is a patent? A patent is a legal document that protects a specific piece of intellectual property by giving the owner of the patent exclusive rights to the use of the design commercially for a set number of years. Patents are granted to designs that are deemed to be new, useful, and non-obvious. They are also granted for improvements to existing designs that are deemed new, useful, and non-obvious. Patent documents generally consist of two parts, the specifications, and the claims. The specifications of the patent describe how the product works and how the product can be reproduced. From the specifications, any advances made by the product should be disclosed. The claims of a patents assert why the design being presented is considered new, useful, and non-obvious. The claims are the most important part of the patent because they are the actual patent-able features of the product. These are what will determine if your design is able to be patented.

To find patents that might be similar to your idea, databases can be searched with keywords that pertain to your design. From here, there are two possibilities that can happen. The first possibility is that the design that you have created may already exist in some capacity. A pre-existing design might not be exactly the same as your design, but as long as it shares claims with what your claims would be, and the patent is not out of term (20 years), there is no right to act. This is not the end of your product though; the existing patents could still be licensed to continue with marketing your product. The second possibility is that the design you have created has never been patented before, making it new, useful, and non-obvious. This is great news! This means you have freedom to act on your design and can continue in the design process to create a prototype, and eventually market your invention - just make sure that you patent your idea first!

Patents can be a complicated part of any project, but luckily the Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship is here to help! Members of our Intellectual Property (IP) Committee are here to evaluate your projects and designs and make sure that you have freedom to act so you do not get into hot water over patent litigation. We confidentially review your designs, review existing patents via several databases, and determine what, if any, patents currently exist that have similar claims to your product.

Visit to learn more about The Allan P. Kirby Center’s Intellectual Property services and how to become a client.

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