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Can Ideas be Patented for Free? The Answer Might Surprise You

Can Ideas be Patented for Free?
An idea cannot be patented on its own unless it is developed as a process or product. Also, patent application will incur some nominal cost and cannot be absolutely free. Hence, it is important to know about the steps involved in applying for a patent.
OpinionFront Staff
Last Updated: Jun 22, 2018
An 'idea' or thought cannot be patented, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will only issue a patent if an idea is developed into a product, process or machine form. Apart from this, an invention must have a utility value. Mere abstract thought or theoretical conceptualization is not enough to receive a patent.
In order to patent an invention, it has to be practical and viable. Also, it is impossible to file a patent at zero cost as you will have to pay the prescribed administrative charges. Fees may vary, based on the type of patent.
Even if you do not hire a patent attorney, for a utility patent you will have to pay the filling fee, the issue fee, the maintenance fee and in certain cases even additional fees during the application process.
One solution to the cost problem is contacting your local patent officer who may file a request to the Director of the U.S. Patent Office, on your behalf, for waiving off the fees. You will have to write a letter mentioning your financial problems and tender the supporting documents like your bank statements, etc.
You will have to explain the benefits of your invention to society at large, and state that you are finding it difficult to bear the expenses of the fees. In case this doesn't work in your favor, you can contact a member of the federal government branch to forward your request to the Director of the U.S. Patent Office.
Benefits of Patenting
Patenting helps you to protect your inventions and innovative creations that are novel and original. Patenting is a legal process by which you are granted a legal right by the government so that you can secure your creation from getting used by other people without your permission for a certain period.
This way you can establish your monopoly on your own invention. The philosophy and process behind patenting is quite similar to trademark and copyright but patenting consumes a lot of time and is more expensive as compared to trademark or copyright.
Apart from this, patent filing process can be lengthy and complicated. But it is worth going through this tedious process at once because patenting is the only solid way you can protect your invention.
Types of Patents
Utility Patent
Under this kind of patent, an inventor can protect the inventions related to technology, such as, machines, mechanisms, chemical compounds, etc.
Design Patent
Design patent
This patent is aimed at protecting the original and ornamental design created by a person. However, the patent does not secure the designing philosophy or the functional characteristics of the design.
Plant Patent
Plant patent
Plant patent grants the right to an inventor to protect his invention of developing a new plant by grafting and cutting plant tissues. But the new plant has to be completely different, new and unique.
Patent Filing Process
Initial Steps
1. Before filling for a patent, confirm that your invention has not been patented previously, by searching it on the USPTO website. It is essential that you know what others have patented. If an invention has been patented earlier by some other person, it will need major modifications if you want to patent it.
2. Determine the type of application that you are filling whether it is design patent, plant patent or utility patent. In case of a utility patent, there are two options of filling the patent - provisional or non provisional.
You will have to decide if you want an expedited examination for your invention. You will have to build a prototype of the invention which will be supplementary to the application. Also, decide whether you want to file the patent globally or only in the US.
Preparing the Application
Patent application
1. You can either file the application yourself or take the help of a patent attorney who has a license to practice before the US Patent and Trademark Office. However, be aware that a patent attorney will charge you a fee to file the patent.
2. You need to document your invention in detail so that the authorities get a clear idea about it. Also add your personal information, legal documents and paperwork related to the invention. It is important that you draw your invention by giving clear details of design, plan and three-dimensional drawings in the proposal.
You can also describe it in detail by giving its manufacturing details, uses, advantages, flow charts, marketing tactics and highlight the positive changes it will bring about in society. Label all your drawings and give a detailed description to emphasize the technical information. This entire document is known as a patent specification.
3. Do not forget to put a date on each of the documents and get them notarized. Make a copy of them as you will use them further in the process. As far as the originals are concerned, store them at a safe place.
Please note that this application will be published online and will be accessible to all, so do not add your strategy or business secrets in it. You may find a patent filling template online, which you can utilize to draft your application.
Filling the Application
1. You will have to fill forms on the USPTO website for filing the patent. You can also undertake an e-filing of the application after converting the files into pdfs. At many steps in the process fees will be charged, however small businesses and individuals who cannot afford them may qualify for concessions.
You will then get a customer number and digital certificate. The USPTO will review and examine the application.
2. The authorities will conduct a research and verify if the same invention has been patented before. This may take sometime. Once the search is complete, a report is compiled by the authorities. If the invention already exists then your application will be rejected or you may have to change certain things related to your invention.
In such a case, you have the option to go to the court of law and prove the authenticity of your invention. If everything goes smoothly, you will progress to the next level.
3. Once your application is cleared through this long process, it will be accepted and a patent will be granted to you. With the patent, a legal monopoly will be assigned to you over the invention. It will become your exclusive intellectual property for a specific period of time.
Tips
▶ If you disclose your invention before applying for a patent then anyone from anywhere can use that invention without your permission. So keep it is a secret.

▶ Applications can be rejected and the filling-fees are non-refundable. Hence, ensure that you study the application carefully before submitting it.
▶ Apart from the uses, you can also mention the warnings if any, that come with your invention.

▶ The USPTO follows a "first to file" rule. In case of a dispute between two inventors, the person with the earliest date of filling application receives the patent.
Many people avoid initiating the process of applying for a patent due to the complexities and cost involved. However, hiring a patent attorney is advisable as he can help you decide which type of patent will be beneficial. As the patent attorney also guides you through the process, the additional charges, in the form of his fees, may be worth bearing.