Frequently, I am asked when a patent application should be filed . I often start the discussion with questions in two areas:
- Is the new product or process complete?
- What is (or will be) happening to demonstrate and monetize the new product or process?
Is the product or process complete?
In asking this question, I am, in part, trying to determine if the inventor can meet disclosure requirements for a patent application. The disclosure needs to be sufficient and precise enough to show what the inventor knew at the time of filing the patent application. Additionally, the disclosure should contain enough information to enable one knowledgeable in the technology at issue to make and use the technology.
In one conversation, I talked to a musician who wanted to alter input sounds and music in a certain manner. At the time, he was not clear whether he wanted to alter the sound mechanically, electronically, or other means. In his case, it was far too early for him to proceed with a patent application. He needed to work further on his idea to define, refine, and possess it. On the other hand, I have met with people who have had the idea for a new product, drawings, and were able to effectively discuss the creation and operation of the new product. In some cases, those individuals had sufficient disclosure to file a patent application, even before a prototype was built.
What has been done and what will be done with the new product or process?
Frequently innovators are trying to monetize the new product or process (no surprise there). This may involve demonstrations, pitching to angels/VCs, sales, offer of sale, distributing information on the product, etc. In the United States and other countries, patents rights are impacted by public disclosure, public use, offers of sale, or sale of material which is the subject of a patent application. Generally all of those actions cause a loss of foreign patent rights. In the United States, a patent must be filed within a year of those actions to avoid a bar to one’s patent rights. However, as a practical matter, even if one expects to only seek patent rights in the United States, the patent application should be filed before any of the mentioned actions. One risk in exposing the idea is that another may file a patent application prior to your patent application. In the U.S., the first person to file usually succeeds in litigation when there is a dispute as to who owns the intellectual property. Thus, one is in a better position by filing a patent application prior to public presentation, public use, sale (or offer) of the new product or process.