How to patent an idea? Read here how it can be done

Is it possible to apply for a patent based solely on an idea? Yes it is!

Siert BruinsSiert Bruins
how to patent an idea

Can you obtain a patent on just an idea? The short answer is yes, it's possible! However, the idea needs to be sufficiently developed within the patent application. It's essential to realize that patents are generally not granted based solely on an idea. A patent pertains to an invention, and just an idea within a patent application isn't a complete invention. You'll need to develop your idea into a concrete concept that can be described in a comprehensive patent application. It might also be the case that your invention isn't yet complete, but you already have a prototype, model, or drawing. A patent grants you exclusive rights to the invention that stems from that idea, provided it meets certain criteria. This means you'll need to demonstrate the technical details and feasibility of your idea before obtaining a patent. So, before reaping the benefits of a patent, you must transform your idea into something tangible and technically viable.

In short, applying for a patent based solely on an idea is possible as long as the concept is sufficiently developed to qualify for protection. Why is this crucial? The answer is that a patent is a valuable legal tool that protects inventors from unauthorized use of their innovations. For a successful patent application (meaning the application gets approved), the idea must meet strict criteria: it must be novel, inventive, and industrially applicable. To assess whether the idea meets these three criteria, it needs to be adequately developed within the patent application:

Conditions for a Patent Application

  1. Novelty. This also means that the idea must not have been disclosed to the public worldwide. Even a minor publication can be considered a disclosure. A thorough search in patent databases like Espacenet can help determine the uniqueness of the idea.
  2. Inventive. An idea should go beyond obvious solutions and provide an original contribution. It shouldn't be obvious to someone knowledgeable in the field.
  3. Industrially Applicable. The idea must not only be innovative but also practically applicable on a scale relevant to the industry.

The Application Procedure

A patent application necessitates a detailed description of the idea and its implementation. The description must be comprehensible to an expert, so providing adequate details is crucial. Contrary to a common misconception, a working prototype is not required; the idea simply needs to be developed enough to be understood by an expert. If the idea isn't fully developed but essential details are available, a patent application can still be submitted. For instance, if the specific material for a component is yet to be determined and isn't crucial to the functionality, the application can still proceed. Once again, preparing a patent application is specialized work, and I highly recommend involving a patent attorney. For more information about the application process, you can visit the page about how to get a patent.

Alternatives to Protect Your Idea

Ideas that aren't sufficiently developed cannot be protected by a patent. However, there might be other rights that can offer protection. For technical innovations, a patent application is suitable, requiring a description with sufficient details. If the idea involves the appearance of a product, protection can be obtained through a design registration. A trademark registration is suitable for protecting names or logos. So, if a patent application isn't viable (yet), there might still be other possibilities.

Adding Extra Information After Submitting the Application?

After submitting a patent application, it's sometimes possible to provide additional information and evidence to strengthen the application. This could be important, for instance, if there are new developments or additional details that clarify the invention. Adding extra information must be done within specified deadlines, which vary depending on the jurisdiction (meaning the country or countries where the patent should apply) and the type of application. Generally, it's advisable to add relevant information as soon as possible after the initial application is submitted. If you anticipate needing to add extra information after the application, it's essential to discuss this as early as possible with the patent attorney.

Why Submit Early and Add Information Later?

But why would you want to submit your patent application as soon as possible? The answer to this question depends on your objectives. Patenting when you only have an idea can help both those who wish to sell their brilliant concept as an idea and those who aim to develop, market, and protect the idea themselves. These are two significant reasons for applying for a patent on your idea: firstly, to position yourself strongly for potential idea buyers, and secondly, to protect your concept while you work to further develop it. However, it might not be wise to swiftly file an application and later add information, especially when a promising idea hasn't been tested yet. Often, individuals or companies need external assistance to test and further develop an idea due to limited financial resources, lack of expertise, or a lack of infrastructure, such as a laboratory. Ideally, they would want to apply for a patent before approaching external parties, but at that stage, they aren't sure if the idea works. The question then arises whether only theoretical evidence is sufficient to demonstrate the idea's effectiveness and novelty without compelling experimental proof. Experimental evidence can potentially be added later, but this poses risks, particularly if the effect turns out differently than originally described, leading to complications.

The optimal scenario is to include experimental evidence directly in the patent application because no information can be added after filing. However, in the European procedure, additional evidence can be provided later if the demonstrated effect was already suggested in the original application. Nevertheless, it's advisable to wait until there is at least a 'proof of concept' before filing a patent application. Including only theoretical evidence in the application is possible but also carries risks. While an inventor might be convinced of the novelty and functionality of the invention, it could be considered obvious by the examiner. For inventors relying on external parties for experiments, it's a delicate balance between early protection and obtaining sufficient evidence for a grantable application. Collaborations with other parties are often necessary for evidence, and using a non-disclosure agreement can help protect intellectual property in collaborations. In summary, filing an incomplete application is possible but comes with significant risks. In such cases, it's essential to consult your patent attorney early on.