Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Patent Process: An Ambitious Adventure

Having come to a position of interesting balance between: A) a suspenseful excitement at nearing the point where I can make my project into a "real" business venture, gaining some legitimacy and support, and B) a paranoid anxiety that my dream will be realized by another individual or company before I can make it my own.... I'm finally starting the patent application process!

I figure this might be an excellent opportunity to document my steps, struggles, and lessons both as I go through them and in a retrospective summary. In the end, I could put together something of a straightforward guide to the bureaucratic maze for the layman. While I consider myself an intelligent person, I've never studied law and no little of intellectual property rights and the like. So I imagine I'll be able to capture the "typical new inventor" perspective, making it accessible to most prospective readers. Even more so given my youth, general life inexperience, and borderline naive optimism about the future fruits of my efforts.

Disclaimer: None of this post (or anything on this blog ever) should be considered as legal or financial advice. Consult the necessary professionals for official advice; don't take any action based on the content of this post or blog alone. Seriously, that would be moronic. I'm an amateur.

Attack of the Jargon!

The first few steps I'm taking are to: 
   [1] try and find a list of "steps" (i.e. which forms and in what order), 
   [2] exactly what documentation is required on my part (i.e. all the fancy diagrams with so many 
        labels & lines; one favorite here, and some classics made into posters), 
   [3] of course the associated fees, and
   [4] when do I even do this? From "neat idea" to "proof of concept" to "functioning prototype", at 
        what point is an invention far enough along to be patentable? 

The first roadblock I ran into was the language. As with much in government, the bastion of knowledge is defended by impenetrable walls of language, each stone an element of jargon mortared with unnecessarily formal phraseology making even the simplest of sentences a challenge to comprehend (Note that I typed that with a hint of irony... hard to convey via text!). 

So for starters, I'll collect a list of terms relevant to the patent application process, which should make official documentation and the like a bit easier. As I'm in the midst of work right now and just got distracted with the idea of writing this blog post, I'll probably edit it later with some more terms & definitions. But for starters:
  • Registered Practitioner: An individual certified/registered to practice patent law; i.e. a patent attorney or agent. 
    • Relevance: The first couple forms to file allow associating a registered practitioner. As I understand it: if a patent lawyer's helping you, s/he's your registered practitioner.
  • Pro Se Inventor: An inventor without representation/assistance from a registered practitioner. In other words, if you're doing this on your own, you're pro se. Like me. 
  • Small Entity: If the applicant is an individual or small business (< 500 employees, I think). Other circumstances apply as well (nonprofit, higher education, etc). 
    • Relevance: 50% reduction in patent fees! Hurray. 
    • I believe you don't necessarily need to provide "proof" or get approval of qualification as a "small entity" prior to filing the application. Micro, however, does prior approval.
  • Micro Entity: An individual (or multiple) who I) have low enough income and II) have less than four existing patents. 
    • I) Specifically less than 3x median income, which was about $155,000 last year. Or majority of income is from a higher-ed institutions ('s got helpful details).
    • For join inventors, each inventor has to individually qualify. 
    • Relevance: 75% reduction in patent fees! Double hurray. 
    • Requires prior approval/qualification, which is another form. 
  • Assignee vs Inventor: A corporation can't be an inventor, though often companies are who get the rights to patents. Thus the "Inventor" is one or more individuals while the "Assignee" is who ends up with the rights to the patent. If it's just you, however, then the inventor & assignee are the same person(s). 

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