How to Patent an Idea

by | Jan 31, 2022

Watch the video to this article at the bottom of the post.

The topic of this article is how to patent an invention idea. I need to make it clear from the very beginning that I’m not a patent attorney and I’m not giving legal advice. So, there you go; there’s my disclaimer. I also want to make it clear that you cannot patent an idea. However, you can turn an idea into an invention. I’m going to continue using the word “idea,” but technically, you cannot patent an idea. It has to become an invention. Why do I always use the word idea instead of invention? Because ideas can be turned into an invention. So, let’s go. The topic, like I said, is how to patent an idea.

How to Patent an Idea triamspin
Prototype of one of my first ideas.

Okay. First things first. You have a great idea! You’ve done a little bit of homework, and you’ve decided you want to go forward, and now you want to protect that idea. First, slow down. Don’t call a patent attorney. I want you to do a little more homework first. I don’t want you to run out and file a patent application first, because there’s a very good chance you won’t have all the information you need to do a good job yet and there’s a very good chance that you’ll learn things along the way.

So, the best approach — the number one best approach for inventors — is to file a provisional patent application first. Now, the reason why I’m saying that is because when you file a provisional patent application, that gives you patent pending status for one year. This allows you to test your idea to determine if anyone — meaning consumers and potential licensees — truly wants it. And this allows you to discover, possibly, how to make your invention idea a little bit better. Now you really have some time to keep doing your homework.

Here’s a tip. If and when you discover how to make your initial idea a little bit better, you can go ahead and file another provisional patent application during those 12 months of patent pending status. You can combine these two applications together before your year of patent pending status expires into one non-provisional patent application.

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Prior art on one of my ideas

So, when you decide, “Hey, I’ve got this great idea. I want patent protection,” don’t run out and file a non-provisional patent application first. You’re going to do a little bit of homework and you’re going to file a provisional patent application instead. This buys you time to further test and refine your idea for marketability. Alright.

So, what should you include about your idea in your PPA? PPA is short for provisional patent application. The first thing you really need to know is your point of difference, because similar ideas are going to be out there. There might even be issued patents that describe similar or the same invention.

So, the first thing that you need to do is really to look at the landscape to see if your idea has a point of difference compared to similar ideas. You can easily determine that by doing a Google Image Search or Google Shopping Search to find and examine similar products that are already selling in the marketplace. What you’re trying to do is to determine whether your idea has a WOW factor compared to similar products on the market. That’s easy to do. You can also visit a local retailer where you think your product idea would be sold and check out similar products on the shelf. Are you sure your idea is new? Is it novel? Does it have a point of difference that people truly want, see the value of, and will pay for?

How to Patent an Idea googlesearch
Google Shopping search to find similar products.

Now, what you should also do is look through issued patents. Issued patents fall under the category of prior art. Basically, prior art is evidence that your idea is not new. Prior art is not limited to patents. What I recommend doing at the very beginning of your prior art search is using Google Patents. Simply type “Google Patents” into your internet browser and you will find this database. This is where you start searching for similar inventions. You will find — I guarantee it — a lot of patents that describe inventions that are similar to yours. And that’s perfectly fine! Some of these patents may have expired. Some may be abandoned. If you are new to prior art searching, there are free resources you can take advantage of online that will show you how. The United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) offers a class. Don’t be afraid to play around and just have fun by typing in certain words and seeing what comes up. Searching for prior art is not terribly difficult to do, but it is essential. Inventors need this information to make sound choices about their inventions. This is what I mean by “doing your homework.”

How to Patent an Idea spinpriorart
Prior patents on rotating inventions.

That homework, at the very beginning, is what I like to call studying the marketplace. This is Step #1 of the inventRight process to license an idea. You are trying to understand, by researching products on the market and inventions described in patents, whether you have an idea that is new — that hasn’t been done before — and really what exactly that point of difference is.

So, let’s say you’ve done that. You’ve decided, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea. No one’s thought of this before.” What are the next steps? Earlier I mentioned that the first thing you want to do is file a provisional patent application. You can hire someone — such as a patent agent or a patent attorney — to do that for you. What do I recommend? I recommend learning how to make your own provisional patent application, which is why you’re reading this article.

I believe inventors need to learn how to write and file their own provisional patent applications for many reasons. Even if they’re planning on hiring someone else later! You still need to gather all of this information together yourself, because no one else is going to approach studying the marketplace like this.

First of all, no one else is going to care as much as you do, which is one reason why they’re not going to do this type of homework. So, what do I include in my provisional patent applications that a patent attorney or patent agent will not help me with? The reason why they won’t do this is because it’s really not their job. It’s the job of the inventor.

So, the first thing I do when I am going to patent my idea, like I said earlier, is study the marketplace so I know my point of difference. That’s very, very important. And to be clear, it’s to know not only my point of difference compared to existing products, but also my point of difference compared to prior art, meaning issued patents.

When I write a provisional patent application, I talk about the problem my invention idea solves. I talk about this problem in plain English, so anyone who ends up reading my PPA can understand it. Right? This is one of the things that is so great about provisional patent applications. You can write them using simple language. PPAs don’t require the same legalese that must be used for non-provisional patent applications. So, like I said, I always starting the patenting process by studying the marketplace. I know the problem, and I state it. “This is a problem we all have and here’s my solution, which is my invention.” Pretty simple format, no? Problem, solution.

Now, what I like to add to a provisional patent application that really only you, as the inventor, can provide, is information about how the idea is going to be manufactured. Wow. Now, it’s likely that you don’t know how your invention idea is going to be manufactured yet — but you could watch a bunch of YouTube videos. You could contact an expert with knowledge about how certain types of products are manufactured. You could hire someone for an hour and have them sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that includes work-for-hire language. This is important, because if they invent something, you own it.

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Understanding manufacturing can be very helpful.
How to Patent an Idea fishbone2

An important question is, can your idea be manufactured at a price that the market will bear? If not, you have a problem. So, you really need to understand a little bit about manufacturing. It’s not hard to do. I would love for you to include that in your provisional patent application, because now it truly has value. Also, what I would add in my provisional patent application is perhaps what type of material would be used. You can learn this by doing a little research, aka your homework. I would add that too.

So, to recap: In my provisional patent application, I’m talking about a problem, then talking about a solution. I’m including maybe how the idea is going to be manufactured. I’m also going to talk about, maybe, what type of material would be used.

Here’s the big thing. You want to be able to protect not only your invention, but the innovation, and the way to do that is talk about some of the variations. That’s right: The variations.

How else could it be made? What other type of materials could be used? Could the invention look a little different? Consider all of the different shapes your idea could take. In fact, think of what you’re trying to do as “stealing it from yourself.” How would someone else recreate the benefit of your invention? I add that to my provisional patent application as well. These are what I call workarounds. They’re also known as variations. I add these to my provisional patent application as well.

I add all this information to my PPA, and the reason why is that I can pick things out later if I decide to go forward and file a non-provisional patent application after my one year is up. Because, remember, like I said earlier, that after you file a PPA you have one year to shop your idea around and show it to people with patent pending status. I can even add another PPA later. I can use this information later, or I can remove it.

I would also think about adding a lot of line drawings of my invention in my patent application. Now, why do I say a lot of drawings? Not just sketches. You don’t need patent drawings, but you do need line drawings. Line drawings are very inexpensive, because they’re less technical. There are certain standards that you must abide by when it comes to patent drawings. In other words, they’re more technical.

The reason why is because a drawing is worth a thousand words. You might miss something when you write your provisional patent application. But if you have a drawing of that variation or that workaround, you’re covered. That’s fantastic.

Why is it important to add all of the details I’ve described in your PPA? Well, it’s important if you’re going to file a non-provisional patent application. And that’s what this article is all about, right? How to file a patent. I want you to file a patent — eventually, if it warrants it — that truly has value in the marketplace. And the way to do that is by not only protecting your invention, but the innovation. This is what adding the manufacturing and the material does, as well as thinking about workarounds and/or variations.

Now you’ve really done a good job with your first patent application! How do you file a patent? Well, like I said earlier, don’t rush. Do your homework first. File that provisional patent application first. Remember, like I said, you can either do this yourself or you can hire someone who can help you, but at the end of the day, you have to be the expert of your invention idea — you and only you. Don’t get overwhelmed. This is not the hardest thing to do, but it takes a little bit of practice. Right? And it takes a little bit of work.

How to Patent an Idea patentcovers

At first, it may seem like this is really hard. So, if you need more information or if you want someone to help guide you file a patent, please reach out to us at inventRight. We’ve been helping inventors for over two decades. I love intellectual property. I’ve filed a lot of patents. I understand how to get patents issued, how to file a provisional patent application that can get licensed, and how to include everything important about your invention idea in your patent application, so it truly has value in the marketplace.

Thank you for reading my article. I know it was a little long. See you next time! Subscribe to the inventRight blog for weekly updates.


  • Stephen Key

    Stephen Key is an award-winning inventor, renowned intellectual property strategist, lifelong entrepreneur, author, speaker, and columnist.
    Stephen has over 20 patents in his name and the d...