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Should I Publish Or Patent?

CmdrTaco posted more than 4 years ago | from the get-a-lawyer dept.

Patents 266

BorgeStrand writes 'Patenting is an expensive process, even coming up with some sort of proof that your idea is unique (and thereby try to attract financing) may be prohibitive for the lone inventor. So what do you folks out there do when you come up with a good idea but don't have the means to patent it or market it to someone who will pay for the patenting process? And how much sense does it really make for the lone inventor to patent something? Would it make more sense to publish the whole idea, and make it (and my inventive brainpower) up for grabs? If my ideas are indeed valuable, what is the best way to gain anything from them without investing too much financially? What is your experience?'

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FIRST!!!! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756281)

FIRST!!!!

Re:FIRST!!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756913)

This is actually good advice. Being FIRST!!!! is the key to obtaining patent protection.

come on (5, Funny)

nomadic (141991) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756287)

This is slashdot, all patents are evil, and the most profitable thing for you to do would be to to let everyone know the details, and let them all build whatever it is you invented. That way, it gets worked on by different people in an open source way and you get a better ultimate product. And somehow you profit from that. I'm still trying to figure out that last part, but if a million slashdotters say something it can't be wrong.

Re:come on (5, Funny)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756351)

I'm still trying to figure out that last part,

I believe the standard notation for this is a single line containing three question marks.

Re:come on (1)

Tsar (536185) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756453)

This is slashdot, all patents are evil, and the most profitable thing for you to do would be to to let everyone know the details, and let them all build whatever it is you invented. That way, it gets worked on by different people in an open source way and you get a better ultimate product. And somehow you profit from that. I'm still trying to figure out that last part, but if a million slashdotters say something it can't be wrong.

I believe the standard notation for this is a single line containing three question marks.

Brilliant. Thank you. You've just made my morning.

Re:come on (3, Interesting)

nomadic (141991) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756373)

In a less sarcastic, slightly more useful vein, patenting something is expensive but not prohibitively so. A few thousand dollars, unless you get unlucky and the patent office starts getting all resistant. Though, because of the state of the legal profession today you might be able to find a patent lawyer cheap.

Re:come on (1)

markkezner (1209776) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756555)

This may turn off a few cynics, but there is more to gain in life than money. I'd be proud if I came up with something that moved society forward. Who knows, you may get hired for a lucrative job developing your technology.

And no, I'm not saying that this approach is right for everyone in every situation.

Really? (1, Insightful)

denzacar (181829) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756681)

Does your boss read slashdot?

Cause, boy do I have an Insightful and Interesting post to show him/her.

Re:come on (1)

YayaY (837729) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756737)

To sum up,

1. publish
2. If someone shows interest, patent (you have 1 year after publication to do that)
3. ???
4. Power and money!

Re:come on (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756791)

Re #2, nope, not any more... Better get that patent ap in BEFORE you disclose (not just publish... disclose in any form)

Re:come on (1)

AlecC (512609) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756827)

Careful - only in the US do you have a year after publication. In the UK, and i think in the rest of Europe, you must patent before publication,

Re:come on (1)

tehniobium (1042240) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756783)

Just because it is rewarding by itself to invent something that really moves the world forward, doesn't mean you shouldn't try to make the most of the situation.

Consider that X $ will be made from your idea, whatever you do. Would you rather A: Give those money to a rich corp. or B: Have those money for yourself or even C: Give the money to those who actually need it.

We can all agree that the dumb option is A. ...and I very much don't think there's anything wrong with option B.

Re:come on (1)

WhiplashII (542766) | more than 4 years ago | (#29757059)

Although that is an admirable sentiment, it does not work out in real life very often.

If I have money to invest, and then invest in something that helps humanity but doesn't provide a return on investment - I no longer have any money to invest on the next idea to help humanity. On the other hand, if I invest in something that shows a return while helping humanity I can then invest in more and more projects. This is how capitalism selects things helpful to mankind - something has to be helpful enough that you can extract value to reinvest, or it isn't done. The flow of capital naturally selects those that make good decisions. Exponential growth of goodness is the standard outcome, and is why we live in such an amazing society.

While the patent may not help you, if it is truly a useful idea patenting it makes it more likely to be developed (assuming a sizable initial investment is required). Open source software does not require a high, up front investment - so it can avoid this problem. But most things really become more valuable for mankind if patented, so it can actually get implemented.

Of course, that said, most inventors greatly overestimate the value of their ideas... myself included.

Re:come on (1)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756979)

This is slashdot, all software patents (and any patent deemed trivial by the hoard) are evil, and the most profitable thing for you to do would be to to let everyone know the details, and let them all build whatever it is you invented. That way, it gets worked on by different people in an open source way and you get a better ultimate product. If the idea is important/unique enough then you can profit by licensing the patent & designs to others making commercial products out of it (this does prevent open hardware from using your design, but allows hobbyists anyway), however much like people who are restrictive about their patents, you will probably not make any profit eitherway.

I think most slashdoters like the idea of patents it is only:
1) software patents (implementation is already covered by copyright FFS)
2) look and feel patents (see 1)
3) how the system allows trivial patents
4) how patents are often use to stifle competition instead of encourage competition while giving the inventor a fair share.

So if this guy has a valid patentable idea I for one hope he does get a patent and make money, but also that he re-licenses the patent liberally so that progress in whatever field he works in is not stifled by him.

Tell Me (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756309)

Simply tell me what your patentable idea is and I'll take care of everything for you.

Re:Tell Me (2, Funny)

mh1997 (1065630) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756725)

Simply tell me what your patentable idea is and I'll take care of everything for you.

Also, a working prototype would be helpful.

Re:Tell Me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756857)

So do I patent or copyright the patent process?

Small entity? (4, Insightful)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 4 years ago | (#29757061)

Presumably, you would be patenting as a small entity, for which the US PTO cuts most fees by 50%.

You also don't necessarily need an expensive attorney to file a US patent application - you can do it yourself, provided you conform to certain formal requirements. For an application which goes smoothly through the process, the small entity fees are less than $2000 http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/qs/ope/fee2009september15.htm [uspto.gov] . If there are many office actions, this total could easily double or triple, however, so preparing the application carefully is essential. I'd recommend you peruse the documents at http://www.uspto.gov/patents/basics/index.html [uspto.gov] , and get a copy of 37CFR part 1 (patent rules) and the MPEP http://www.uspto.gov/patents/law/index.jsp [uspto.gov] .

FWIW, I've had a couple of patents which issued without any intervening office actions, but they were the exceptions. Most involved a few office actions, and a couple involved many office actions. Every office action involves a fee, even if the action was due to the PTO losing papers which they had officially acknowledged receiving (that case is still ongoing).

Also, publishing in some journal or on the web does not necessarily prevent someone else from filing a patent application on much the same thing. The US PTO does not and cannot search ALL possible publications when looking for prior art, and if a patent is wrongly issued, it would be up to you to challenge it in court (at much higher expense than actually getting a patent)). The PTO does search all US patents and US patent applications, however. So filing a patent application, and then abandoning it at the first office action, is a good and relatively cheap way of publishing your idea in a way that prevents everyone else from getting a patent on it. They'd have to make significant changes beyond anything clearly contemplated in your application to get their application through the PTO.

That's quite a subjective question. (1)

tehniobium (1042240) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756335)

That's a very hard question to answer, as it depends solely on just how good your idea is :)

Perhaps you could consider # of people who will use an implementation of your idea and multiply that by some very small number, to get an idea of how much you'll make.

Of course, if your idea is better, both numbers will increase. And yes, I know I am stating the obvious...

Re:That's quite a subjective question. (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756729)

If it's software, just register a copyright. Thirty five bucks and you're good to go. Plus, your expensive patent only lasts 20 years but your copyright will probably outlive your children.

Patent if it's practical, publish if it's risky. (4, Insightful)

Xiph (723935) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756345)

If you patent, it'll be expensive.
If you don't patent, but end up making it, someone else will patent it and sue you, that will be more expensive.
However, if it'll never really be marketable, publish, someone might think oooo nifty, and hire you because it sounds great.

Re:Patent if it's practical, publish if it's risky (4, Insightful)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756609)

If you patent, it'll be expensive. If you don't patent, but end up making it, someone else will patent it and sue you, that will be more expensive.

No to the second part-- if you publish before they file the patent, their patent filing won't help them, the patent is invalidated by prior art (=your publication).

In fact, if you keep good enough notes (signed and witnessed) to show your date of invention, and to show that you were diligent in working to bring the invention to workability (i.e., that you didn't just have the idea and abandon it), then they can't succeed in suing you, either, because you can prove you invented it first.

(However, if you had the idea, and didn't diligently work on reducing it to practive, you're out of luck. No cookies from the patent office to ideas that are abandoned and not reduced to practice.)

Disclaimer: IANAL

Re:Patent if it's practical, publish if it's risky (1)

Jurily (900488) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756645)

No to the second part-- if you publish before they file the patent, their patent filing won't help them, the patent is invalidated by prior art (=your publication).

Like that's going to stop the USPTO clerks. Fighting a patent is even more expensive than getting one, anyway.

Re:Patent if it's practical, publish if it's risky (1)

dvorakkeyboardrules (1652653) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756757)

What's important is what happens in court, not with patent clerks.

Re:Patent if it's practical, publish if it's risky (2, Insightful)

NoTheory (580275) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756709)

Oh, naïveté.

Nothing will stop them from filing their patent unless you are aware of their filing, and object.

Then, if you were to do something w/ your idea, they may very well sue you, regardless of their patent's invalidity, making the gamble that you'd rather settle than deal with the legal proceedings required to invalidate their patent.

These guys aren't doing it cause they're smart. They're doing it because they think there's easy money to be made, and it's a pain in the ass to defend yourself in court.

This behavor is called patent trolling. I figure any careful reader of Slashdot would recognize this modus operandi, given it's frequency in News for Nerds.

So what can i say?
You must be new here.

Re:Patent if it's practical, publish if it's risky (4, Insightful)

N Monkey (313423) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756807)

IANAPL but...

If you patent, it'll be expensive.
If you don't patent, but end up making it, someone else will patent it and sue you, that will be more expensive.

No to the second part-- if you publish before they file the patent, their patent filing won't help them, the patent is invalidated by prior art (=your publication).

That is the theory and, in some countries, patent examiners will look through reputable journals etc when looking for prior art but, in my experience, US examiners only look in existing US patents (and patent applications). Once a patent is granted it sounds like it is very difficult - in the US at least - to get it overturned.

The question is also where do you publish? If you can't get it into a journal, AFAIU one possible option might be just to file it as a patent and then abandon it before the really expensive charges occur. It should then, (again AFAIU), end up in the public domain.

Re:Patent if it's practical, publish if it's risky (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756659)

prior art?

IANAL

Re:Patent if it's practical, publish if it's risky (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756789)

If someone else patents it and you have proof that you came up with the idea first, their patent is rendered invalid(it's up to the courts though). The guy who made the first video game (it was like pong) didn't patent it, so now no one can patent video games. Also, with a patent, it is only valid in the country that you file it in. Even then you are the one responsible for enforcing it. Its a good idea to make a company to own the patent too, that way you get get the maximum life of the patent. Patents aren't enforceable after the owner is deceased.

Re:Patent if it's practical, publish if it's risky (4, Informative)

tburkhol (121842) | more than 4 years ago | (#29757011)

If you patent, it'll be expensive.

In the US, you can apply for a provisional patent [uspto.gov] for $110. This is a simplified, essentially abstract patent application you can use to hold your place in the patent line while you go off and find someone to commercialize/help you commercialize your idea.

You've still got a year after publication to make a provisional filing, but you also get a year after the provisional filing before the full application.

Big Money comes from Big Risks. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756349)

Big Money comes from Big Risks. That includes financial risks.

If your idea is any good, then by all means patent it. Weight your future gains against what it'll cost you to file the application. Be the Big Boy, and if your idea has the Big Balls, then take the Big Risk and patent it so that you can somebody maybe make the Big Money.

Re:Big Money comes from Big Risks. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756573)

Have you recently been released from jail by any chance? :D

Re:Big Money comes from Big Risks. (1)

cgenman (325138) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756959)

If you have an idea worth turning into a business, you'll probably need to raise 10 or 20 thousand minimum in initial seed money anyway. Your investors take the risk, and you avoid spending any of your own money. Build prototypes, get patents, and attempt to raise full funding with that seed money.

The choice (-1, Troll)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756357)

Your choice is whether to be selfish or decent. Are you going to stand on the shoulders of giants, but sue anyone who would stand on yours?

How you proceed says a bit about who you are.

Re:The choice (5, Insightful)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756381)

Oh quit the moral bullshit, people need to eat too and rent isn't free.

Re:The choice (2, Interesting)

Vohar (1344259) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756467)

Oh quit the moral bullshit, people need to eat too and rent isn't free.

I totally agree. If it's a good idea, -someone- is going to make money off it. If he gives his idea away, then everyone but him is going to profit off it. I say he deserves to get his cut.

Re:The choice (1)

Rary (566291) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756885)

If he gives his idea away, then everyone but him is going to profit off it. I say he deserves to get his cut.

I'm having trouble following the logic here. How would he not be able to profit off of an idea that others are able to profit from? Can he not do the same thing with that idea that the others would do, and compete with them?

Ideas aren't physical objects. When you give it away, you still have it.

Re:The choice (1)

DrLang21 (900992) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756915)

Because he does not have the capital to survive the beating he will get from established competitors.

Re:The choice (1)

Rary (566291) | more than 4 years ago | (#29757045)

Because he does not have the capital to survive the beating he will get from established competitors.

If it's truly a new idea, then there are no established competitors. He will be the first, and the competition will follow.

Of course, this entire discussion hinges on the ridiculous belief that ideas are worth something. They're not. Every moron has a million ideas. Implementation is everything. If he can't/won't implement the idea, then he doesn't have anything of any value anyway.

Re:The choice (1)

Shrike82 (1471633) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756503)

Totally agree. If I come up with a great idea why the hell should I give it away for free? This bullshit opinion that all patents are evil needs to end. If somebody spends time and money develoing an idea and inventing something new they deserve some bloody reward for it, and something more substantial than the warm fuzzy feeling that they gave it to the world for free.

Re:The choice (1)

easyTree (1042254) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756593)

It's not all patents are evil; just the ones along the lines of "I patent the idea of <doing something in a manner appropriate to a human with arms and legs>"...

Re:The choice (1)

AnnoyaMooseCowherd (1352247) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756711)

This bullshit opinion that all patents are evil needs to end. If somebody spends time and money develoing an idea and inventing something new they deserve some bloody reward for it

I don't know if as many people would have a problem with this sentiment per se. However, the patent system is regularly abused by people who haven't spent time and money inventing something and aren't actually going to spend any time and money producing the product either, but simply look to sit on the patent and make their money from suing anyone who does put the effort in and brings the product to market.

The other problem is the granting of patents (especially software patents) for things that the patent office may think is novel and worthy of protection, but we all know is so obvious that it wouldn't occur to any of us to try to patent. However, once the patent is granted, again the patentee puts all their real effort into suing anyone who dares to come up with the same idea.

It is this leeching and obstructive use of patents that I would imagine that most people have problems with.

Re:The choice (1)

Dr. Evil (3501) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756899)

"...why the hell should I give it away for free?"

Why should society grant you a temporary monopoly, when you can't even implement it?

Re:The choice (-1, Flamebait)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756571)

Oh quit the moral bullshit, people need to eat too and rent isn't free.

It's rarely the case that someone filing a patent is just trying to make the month's rent.

If it was truly a case of the guy being homeless and/or starving if he didn't file the patent, I'd be more sympathetic.

BTW, your view also has "moral bullshit" packed into it, just less explicitly. You're being an obnoxious hypocrite.

Re:The choice (1)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756823)

So he should just let others profit off of his invention?

Or maybe some corporation will be kind enough to give him a decent salary meanwhile making millions off of his patent?

Not everyone likes to run a charity like you.

Re:The choice (1)

Dishevel (1105119) | more than 4 years ago | (#29757009)

So you believe that a person can only file a patent if they have no money for rent?

I have no words for how stupid I believe you to be right now. None.

Re:The choice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29757017)

you should probably stop here, it's starting to look like your only exposure to the patent system is what you've seen on Slashdot. there's more to them than abuse by patent trolls.

your stance makes it appear that you've only heard about the patent-related issues that are newsworty. meanwhile, there are millions of patents, most of which haven't made the news.

in other words, "It's rarely the case that someone filing a patent is just trying to make the month's rent." [citation needed].

Re:The choice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756433)

Please! This is just silly.

Re:The choice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756483)

So what your saying is, it's great for this inventor to work really hard and come up with a new idea that a large, multinational corporation can swoop in and get a bunch of money on for free.

Oh wait, it doesn't sound so "decent" and "moral" when the multinational corporation boogeyman suddenly appears to capture all the money now does it?

Re:The choice (2, Insightful)

Dishevel (1105119) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756941)

Patents and Copyright are not evil. They are in fact a bonus to our society. The problem is with the ways special interests have warped patent and copyright to serve themselves rather than the public good. The pansy ass posters who think that everything should be given away are for the most part DIPSHITS.

Patent your idea. Then don't go around being an ass about it. Don't try to extend your right for 937 years. Do not sue anyone who comes up with anything close to your idea. And for God's sake do not start that crap where you can amend your patent to cover shit it never did in the first place so you can sue someone.

Then you will be a fine upstanding member of the community who dose well and makes money.

I win

Re:The choice (1, Insightful)

elnyka (803306) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756997)

Your choice is whether to be selfish or decent. Are you going to stand on the shoulders of giants, but sue anyone who would stand on yours?

How you proceed says a bit about who you are.

Bullshit morality by proxy combined with rhetorical, ideologotardic nonsense that can neither be proved, nor argued for logically.

Prove to me in a logically consistent manner that decency and selflessness are inevitably inconsistent and incompatible with one's natural right to get remunerated/recognized for one's original and hard-earned intellectual work, and to protect that natural right should the individual desires so.

Prove to me also that absolute selflessness as a trait is obligatory for one to be decent (as opposed to a voluntary act might increase, but never defines decency), and that the exhibition of such a trait mandates ones to surrender one's natural right get remunerated for one's originally created intellectual work.

Prove that, and we can talk. Your ability to prove this, and your willingness to respect other peoples' rights will say not a bit, but a lot about you, your intellect and your decency.

Do what a lot of us do (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756369)

So what do you folks out there do when you come up with a good idea but don't have the means to patent it or market it to someone who will pay for the patenting process?

Do what a lot of us do. Longingly let out a sigh while you're enjoying a pint of beer or your favorite alcohol on the rocks. Painfully hold onto it until you either

a. Realize that it isn't worth patenting

or

b. Find some way to make it profitable

I don't know the specifics of your idea, but that's what I would (and am currently doing). If someone beats me to it and publishes one of my ideas, it wasn't all that novel. Until then, It gives me something to think about while not doing my 9-5.

You can do both (5, Informative)

Steve1952 (651150) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756407)

If you live in the US, you can do both. First send in a provisional patent to the USPTO using their electronic filing system (costs $110), then publish your idea. You have a year to decide to patent the idea or not, and if you decide not to, all you are out is $110.

Re:You can do both (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756509)

as someone with many granted patents, and as someone who has been thru the provisional system, it aint as easy as it sounds.
writing a good provisional, that will stand the test of time, is hard work, and has to be done according to the rules.
the poster is right that it is a cheap way to buy time, but only if done right - a badly done provisional is just a waste of time and 110 bucks
you have to go to the library, and read the right books

Re:You can do both (1)

werfu (1487909) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756511)

Yes, and prior art is always possible when defending against someone who would grab your idea and patent it. Publishing also help a lot with prior art.

Re:You can do both (2, Informative)

MobyDisk (75490) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756675)

I had an IP lawyer tell me that the provisional patent is completely pointless. You don't have to file a provisional patent to get this protection. You can publish, then patent up to a year later and your idea is still protected.

Re:You can do both (4, Informative)

N Monkey (313423) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756933)

I had an IP lawyer tell me that the provisional patent is completely pointless. You don't have to file a provisional patent to get this protection. You can publish, then patent up to a year later and your idea is still protected.

...but only in the US. If you do as suggested above you will have screwed up your protection for the rest of the world (or at least the majority of it :-) ). Get your patent filed first, to get a "priority date" and you then have, something like, a year to file in other countries. In the mean time you can publish if you want.

Re:You can do both (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756975)

I think the point would be that even the PTO checks their data-base of provisional patents before handing out a patent. The idea is to tell them, 'I am doing this' so they don't let others patent the idea.

IANAL, nor do I play one on TV.

Re:You can do both (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29757085)

The provisional patent basically extends the time window by a year. You can Publish and file either a full or provisional patent within one year. If you filed provisional, then you have an additional year before you file the full application.

Re:You can do both (1)

rvw (755107) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756929)

In the Netherlands you can deposit the design at a local tax office. Yes you read that correct. They will file it for you, and it can be used as official proof in a court case. It costs about $50. This is not a patent, but it could protect you against one. Possibly other countries offer a similar service.

They're the same (1)

vekrander (1400525) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756417)

When you put them into the formula, you reach profit equally as fast.

Step 1: Patent

Step 2: ???

Step 3: Profit

OR

Step 1: Publish

Step 2: ???

Step 3: Profit

See? They're the same.

check if somebody else has already had the idea. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756425)

First search the online patent databases. You'd be amazed at what other people have already thought of.
If somebody has already had a similar idea, the question is moot.

Tell us more about your idea (1)

ggraham412 (1492023) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756437)

Tell us more about your idea so we can help. We'll keep it secret here.

Patenting doesn't have to be expensive, buuuut... (5, Insightful)

Tobor the Eighth Man (13061) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756449)

I believe the only unavoidable cost of getting a patent is the filing fee (and the issuing fee, if it's accepted), but that only amounts to a few hundred dollars. There are maintenance fees every few years, and while these are a bit more expensive, it's not an insurmountable expense. All the prior work research and everything can be done by an individual, assuming they're determined and resourceful, although depending on the nature of the patent that could get real tricky.

What you should really ask is, "What's the purpose of getting this patent?" Having a patent doesn't automatically protect you from people stealing the idea, or ensure that you'll be duly compensated if someone decides to use it. The most onerous part of the patenting and licensing process comes after you get the patent - patent battles can go on for years or decades, and there's no guarantee that you'll win any compensation after almost unavoidably spending a ton of money to fight the good fight, often against people with far more resources than yourself.

If you think you can really do something with your invention and are willing to take on the entirely separate and probably even more difficult task of marketing the invention to a company and getting them to distribute it or license it, then a patent is probably something to seriously consider. If you want to patent it because it's your idea and you're proud of it, but you don't necessarily see yourself pursuing it in a commercial sense, then in my opinion you're probably better off just publishing it and taking satisfaction in the fact that you're contributing to the knowledge base.

Ignorance is bliss. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756451)

Patenting, like copyright, is an antiquated system that allows the greedy/privileged to profit off of ignorance.

In other words, if you can afford it, do it while it's still legal. Nobody's going to judge, and rich people are usually dicks anyway.

a patent isn't valuable per se (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756457)

Patenting can give you the advantage of being able to show that the idea is... well... patentable - so if you start a business later on around it, you'd have proof that there's something to protect. But if you won't have the money to finance lawyers and litigation to protect the patent, it won't do you any practical good. A patent is only valuable if you can enforce it - and that burden is entirely on you.

Develop it AND get a provisional patent (5, Insightful)

gr8_phk (621180) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756465)

The sum of the standard responses will be:
1) Develop the thing on your own. If you can't prototype it you don't have anything of interest to the folks you want to sell to.
2) Get a provisional patent - they're cheap and should protect you while trying to pimp your prototype.
3) There is NO market for pure ideas - if that's all you've got, nobody cares enough to pay you for that. Bringing something to market is far-far harder than coming up with an idea.

Being a person whose has ideas and these same questions for a long time, I can say I agree with all the above.

If it's possible for slashdot to agree on anything, it's this. Oh, and you'll get the "patents are evil" stuff too, but that doesn't actually answer your question.

Re:Develop it AND get a provisional patent (1)

QuickInvent (1605117) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756829)

There is no such thing as a provisional patent. There are only provisional patent APPLICATIONS. Your provisional patent application will die a swift death on the stroke of midnight on its first anniversary date of filing -- snooze you lose - unless you follow-up with a non-provisional patent application. Don't get me wrong, the provisional patent application has its place as establishing an early date of conception/filing... just don't expect that it is anything more than that.

Let the USPTO do the leg work? (1)

LoadWB (592248) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756485)

I have given this thought in the past and figured that since the USPTO does a lot of legwork to check out patents before granting them, why not let them do the research and then redo the patent filing based upon the rejection? Of course, the speed at which these are processed and public availability of filings would most likely make this simplistic scenario unrealistic. It was a thought, none-the-less.

Publish and then offer to work on it for a fee. (1)

Hungus (585181) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756489)

given that in the US "A patent for an invention is a grant of property rights by the U.S. Government" (from the US Patent Office), Publishing would just provide for prior art to remove a future patent by someone else. The only way to protect your invention for future monetary gain by yourself is to patent it. Now, that being said is what you have developed actually patentable or is it one of the silly things we see constant surfacing by patent trolls?

  One way of making some money and also helping out your fellow humans would be to publish your invention and make yourself available for "for fee consulting" or development of your invention. This is a win win situation as whomever has the money to bring it to market will want your intellectual knowledge to go along with the design for any future adaptations.

Obvious? (1)

Gudeldar (705128) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756507)

Is your invention obvious? If not, patent it.

Patents don't make money (4, Insightful)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756519)

The sad fact is that nine out of ten patents don't make any money. I don't mean, "don't make enough money to pay back the expenses of patenting"-- I mean, don't make any money.

Don't expect that you'll make money if you patent an idea-- the patent is only the first step in the process of commercializing the invention, and unless you are active and get your invention out in the world, it won't happen-- it's not true that there are people sitting there and reading every patent as it comes out, saying "oh, there's one I can invest in! I'll pay that guy buckets of money!" You have to do the work (and only ten percent of that work is technical. The majority is networking, social, legal, business, economic, and sales related.)

So: are you ready to do the entrepreneur thing? Long days of working on selling your invention to people with investment money, concatenated with long nights of working to make your invention work better, cheaper, and more reliably?

On the other hand, patenting needn't be terribly expensive if you do most of the grunt work yourself. The patent office has low fees for "small entities," which includes individual inventors.

If you publish, you won't profit directly (although if it's a nobel-prize winning invention, you will), but you will (in principle) prevent somebody else from patenting it. In practice, actually, the patent office is not very good at finding prior art in the literature (to be fair, they have roughly one day per invention to do both the literature search and also the write-up), so what you'll actually accomplish by publishing is to give other parties a piece of evidence that they can use to challenge the validity of the patent. (And, of course, the other parties who have the same idea will probably not have exactly the same idea, and the details of their patent will probably be slightly different, so not the entire patent will be invalidated.)

Disclaimer: IANAL (but, on the other hand, you can google Patent Claim Drafting... [google.com] :)

Angel investor (1)

ForexCoder (1208982) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756529)

Another option is an angel investor. You don't need a patent to talk to investors, they just want to know if it's a viable business.

Most areas have local groups that hook up inventors with angel investors.

In the UK (2, Informative)

whencanistop (1224156) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756567)

In the UK, fortunately you have a nice little website [businesslink.gov.uk] that tells you all about how to take ideas you have and turn them into money.

Fortunately, they also have a section on protecting your intellectual property [businesslink.gov.uk] that tells you how to do that as well (in terms of patenting, NDAs, Trademarks and Design right). I'm sure the processes aren't quite as straightforward as they look like they are here, but you get the point.

On a personal note - the question of whether to patent is a difficult one. In the internet era it would seem easier to exploit the innovation yourself before anyone else can come up with a similar, but slightly different idea that they then make a shed load of money out of.

Disclaimer: I work for BusinessLink

But in the Soviet Russia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756985)

patents publish you!!

Publish! (1)

MathFox (686808) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756579)

If it would be hard for you to find the $50.000 to patent it, you won't have the $5.000.000 to enforce your patent in court.

Decimals for commas. (1)

maillemaker (924053) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756987)

A question: Why do some cultures use decimal points in place of commas?

Hm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756597)

I'm not sure...maybe you should tell me your idea then I'll let you know... >_>

The myth about "ideas" and making money (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756607)

Let me start by saying that there will be plenty of advice on how to obtain a patent, given that a good portion of your audience is likely American and some of them know about this. And I do encourage you to patent this idea if you want to...

  Now. This topic comes up as recurring conversation piece on most white collar sites (and I remember seeing this the first time here on slashdot, actually):
  Ideas are a dime a dozen. The sooner you accept that as being fact, the better you will be equipped to do something.

  At no time was this "dime a dozen" more visible than the dot-com era. This is also why "brilliant" programmers always complain that they should be getting paid more than the suits in the company but are completely wrong. You seem to want to make money off of your idea, right? Then make money, be a business man. Otherwise, why even bother patent? A patent isn't a condo for rent.

  The time when people can come up with a single brilliant idea and become rich is long past. But I also challenge that it ever existed. Many people we look back to now and think "that was such a simple yet revolutionary idea" were people who were consistently creating ideas and implementing them. But we only remember those ideas which stuck through the test of time.

  The other thing to remember is that many people who "invented awesome ideas" didn't get rich from them either.

Neither (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756615)

Approach a party that can gain from your work and offer it as a trade secret. If this is the venue for which you come to for advice you're likely thinking of something that is questionably patentable to begin with and ultimately is only useful if somebody will pay for it, so go straight to the pay opportunity.

Open source (1)

toppavak (943659) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756619)

And not just in the free software sense. There are a lot of great ideas out there that don't have the capacity to become traditionally successful ventures. Either the capital isn't there (as in your case), the idea doesn't have enough potential to really stand on its own, patenting would be difficult because of prior art or there isn't a very strong business case to be made. In any of these situations, the idea might still be valuable to someone, somewhere and it would be a shame for it to fall by the wayside. Publishing is typically a good thing to do, IMO. If the idea is valuable to someone, hopefully they'll eventually find it and make use of it. If they do or they don't you're still no worse off than when you started, and if your idea is eventually taken up you can always point to your publication as credit to your major contribution to the field.

Besides, even if you could patent the tech if you don't have the capital to start a venture and attract investment you're going to have a very hard time enforcing the patent (Not to mention a lot of people would consider it ethically reprehensible if you were just sitting on a patent for the sake of sitting on a patent). Enforcing IP is a very costly proposition, especially if your idea ends up being implemented by someone with pockets that are millions or billions deeper than yours.

There was recently a talk given by Oliver Smithies (Nobel prize for inventing gene knock-out mice) that was sponsored by the university's tech transfer department to discuss "missed opportunities". He had a large number of inventions that have become central technologies in genetics and molecular biology (gel electrophoresis is one of the more notable ones) but never patented any, choosing instead to publish. The tech transfer folks were trying to bill it as a "lesson learned" about patenting potentially valuable technologies, but Smithies didn't seem at all regretful. A friend of mine asked him then, "You refer to these as missed opportunities, but is that how you really think of them?" to which he replied, loosely paraphrased, "No". There are a number of situations where I believe, even though it may be legal and financially lucrative to do so, the world would be better off if the inventor chooses not to patent a technology, as Smithies did. This is certainly an extreme example, but there are many others that come to mind- cochlear implants, for example. Just some food for thought.

Re:Open source (1)

toppavak (943659) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756677)

Sorry, a slight error there. Smithies won the Nobel for incorporating genetic alterations into mice using embyronic stem cells- not knockout mice, although he did invent that technique at the same time as Mario Capecchi. For that work they shared the Lasker Award along with Martin Evans.

IANAL (1, Redundant)

CapnStank (1283176) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756649)

Sorry if I'm mistaken but once an idea is revealed publicly the idea holder has one year to secure a patent before it can be ravaged by competition's dogs? Couldn't the publishing be made as a market test to gain interest and support for said idea and then secure the patent after testing the waters?

Depends on the idea (1)

Omnifarious (11933) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756687)

If it's a software idea, I would say you should create an implementation with your name prominently associated with it. If the implementation is any good, or the idea is pretty neat, you will find people who want you to help make the idea work for them.

If you patent it, please don't tell me about it. I don't want to know. Chances are someone will stumble across it anyway, and implement it. The more ignorance they can claim about your idea, the less money you can extract from them. The last thing I want to know about is an idea someone wants to patent, which, of course, is the opposite of how things ought to be if the purpose of patents is really to 'promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts'.

Patent... always (0)

lostinspace2011 (1650643) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756693)

I have raised a similar question on slashdot (http://slashdot.org/submission/1088065/Generic-names-for-software-projects) but have not had any response. From my experience simply having something first does not give you much protection, unless you ready for some litigation. Also bear in mind that this could still back fire. If they manage to obtain a trademark on their efforts you have to contest it at your expense.

You're asking this on slashdot? (1)

stry_cat (558859) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756699)

You asking if you should get a patent on a site that is notoriously anti-patent? I'd say you're looking for a certain answer.

At the risk of being modded down, I'm not going to give you that answer. Get the patent. It is good legal protection. It will help if someone else tries to steal your idea and sues you for infringing on the patent they just got. It will help if you later decide to actually get paid for your idea and need to keep others from stealing it.

The patent basically says you thought of this first. It doesn't not say you can't publish your idea, in fact with a patent you must publish your idea.

So bottom line get the patent and then work on making your idea a success.

YRO? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756715)

Why is this 'article', and I use that term loosely, "Your Rights Online" instead of "Ask Slashdot"?

Patents don't work for the little guy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756733)

Say you patent it, and spend every nickle you can wrap you finders around to set up the facility to make your widget. The money is pouring in, and your investors are getting paid back. But the guy accross the street copies your idea, so you get your lawyer to sue his company. After many thousands of lawyer hours, your lawyer prevails and your neighbors company owes you $billions$ he just shuts down the plant, files chapter7, and sets up an offshore company doing the exact same thing! Your lawyer only sued the banckrupt company, not the new company, so the whole process starts over, and will be more expensive, and take longer, since the new company isn't local and all. Even though you won, you still havn't collected a dime on the suit, and your lawyer wants his
hourly fee.

Patenting is just part of the story (1)

QuickInvent (1605117) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756743)

Look, a patent, by itself, is fairly useless. You need a plan after you get your patent(s). Frankly, a patent seeker should also bank some money for product development. If you thought a patent was expensive, I guaranty you that 9 of 10 patents would require at least double the expense to make commercial-quality patented products _and_ make them in commercial quantities. So, if you think seeking a patent is going to break your budget, then let the next Sergey Brinn and Larry Page step in and do the heavy lifting, and get the heavy profits. No pain, no gain.

Good Ideas are cheap (5, Insightful)

Peaker (72084) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756755)

Ideas are a dime a dozen.
Implement something.

There is no sense in rewarding people for thinking up ideas. We simply don't need to, as good ideas will be thought out even if we don't.

The problem is finding people who would implement those ideas.

Re:Good Ideas are cheap (1)

Toy G (533867) | more than 4 years ago | (#29757067)

+1. In business (and that includes the technology business), execution is everything. One of my great-grand-uncles worked with Guglielmo Marconi, patented lots of stuff related to radio transmission (in Europe, in an age when patents really meant something and were hard to get) and still died a poor man.

Self Patent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756759)

When I was much younger, I learned a method of "Self Patenting" which I am not sure if it would help you out any or not, but I will explain just in case anyone else has this idea. Basically what you can do is make TWO copies of all your notes and schematics for the invention or work. Mail BOTH (use signature guarantee or something to that effect) to an attorney. Contact the attorney ahead of time and inform them of what you are doing. The attorney will then file the UNOPENED packages for you. If an issue arises where you feel your idea was stolen, contact the attorney and in your presence open ONE of the envelopes to confirm with the attorney the infringement. The second package is to remain sealed until such a time as you are in court. The postage information and the sealed package allow you to prove a date from when your idea was created.

This may sound odd, but I have had friends that have written papers, songs and poetry that have been published without consent, and through this method of "self patenting" they were able to receive credit and financial benefits from their works.

Patents not for the lone inventor (1)

bzzfzz (1542813) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756799)

In general, lone inventors don't benefit much from patents.

I used to work for $BIG_COMPANY where we had a process where a team of lawyers and engineers would evaluate everything someone thought remotely patentable, and they would consider whether the patent was worth the time and money (usually several thousand dollars even though they used in-house counsel and did thousands of these a year). The analysis was based not only on the validity of the patent and the value of the innovation covered, but also the difficulty of creating a comparable innovation that is non-infringing, and the difficulty of detecting infringement (One of the problems with software patents is that it is often difficult to detect whether infringement has occurred in a closed-source competing implementation, which makes the patent unenforceable in practice).

Most of their patents were never worth anything, even with all the vetting. The valuable ones were core innovations in emerging industries where the product gets sold in consumer quantities, not some way to make a better forklift.

I was just burned by something stupid like this (1)

Omnifarious (11933) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756819)

I spent a good 3 weeks implementing an interesting idea that the person who came up with decided he wanted to patent. My conditions for working on it were that either the thing be treated as a trade secret or that it be allowed to be used in any Open Source application of any kind. He wanted some stupid mealy-mouthed non-commercial clause license.

In my opinion, no matter what the guy thinks of his idea, he will never make any money off of it by trying to keep such tight fisted control over it. His best bet was to create an interesting implementation with his name on it and make money from consulting. Now the stupid idea is going to languish in obscurity because he's too afraid to actually get it out there in a way people will ever use.

The best way to make sure an idea is never used is to patent it. Chaum's digital cash algorithms have a lot of interesting uses that have little to do with digital cash, but nobody will touch them because of the patents. Patenting, IMHO, is the kiss of death for an idea, especially one related to mathematics or software.

Anonymous Coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29756831)

All the 'funny' responses aside... there are options open to you without lots of investment. But beware most of them... Invention companies... most want to do marketing surveys or other scam actions. I've had good luck with think village however you do have to share any profits.

What is your motivations? (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756865)

If you want the glory that can come only from selfless giving, publish, publish, publish, or alternatively, patent and don't charge licensing fees.

If you want cash or the glory that can come with an expensive self-marketing campaign, patent, patent, patent. If you need the patent for a swap, patent, patent, patent.

But don't patent unless you've got something good, or you may find your ideas relegated to obscurity unless you license it broadly for nearly nothing.

One non-financial reason to patent is control:

Once you publish something and the time to patent expires (immediately in some countries, 1 year in others), anyone can improve your invention, patent the improvement, and if the improvement is good enough to render the un-improved version obsolete, control the market. If you patent and license broadly and cheaply, you can later change the licensing for new customers to "the same as what you are paying the guy who improved it," which may pressure the guy who improved it to charge reasonable licensing fees.

Another often-overlooked aspect of control is you have some measure of control over WHO licenses your patent. This can be used for good or evil. For example, if you have a patent on a method for mining diamonds, you can refuse to license it to anyone doing business in areas that mine conflict diamonds. There are limits to this though, including patent exhaustion and the problem of enforcement against companies based in countries with legal systems that are hostile to you. Of course, this can be used for evil as well, like a global conglomerate not licensing it any company that does business with your chief competitors, even if those competitors are in businesses un-related to the patent.

Publish, don't patent (3, Interesting)

nwanua (70972) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756877)

The following assumes this is a hardware patent you have in mind.

The days of patenting for the lone inventor are over, seriously. And what if you do patent it? You'll end up spend the bulk of your time, brain power, and meager resources defending it. Unless you have the resources to hire a cadre of lawyers, you won't even be able to defend infringements. And we've not even discussed international patents... which still won't stop Chinese knockoffs (at least not for the foreseeable future).

For insights into why the patent process is seldom useful for individuals:
http://bit.ly/12x7EJ [bit.ly]
http://bit.ly/3glVfj [bit.ly]

There is a lot of money being made in the (e.g.) open-hardware arena: you make a gadget (brilliant idea or not), sell a couple hundred or thousand, make some money and move on to the next thing (see Arduino, Chumby, SeeedStudio, Adafruit, Sparkfun). These guys publish the specs of pretty much everything they make, with enough detail that anybody else could copy it. Yet they are rather successful for small (closely held) businesses.

So my advice is:
Step 1: make
Step 2: publish (gets you publicity for your gadget BTW)
Step 3: open up a store front and sell
Step 4: ??? (there is no step 4)
Step 5: Profit!!!

It's easy to get anything manufactured in small quantities these days. And by the time somebody bothers to clone your idea (which kind proves that you must have made money, in a backhanded compliment kind of way), the hope is you've made some cash, and can spend your time innovating on the next great thing.

This is the secret to happiness my friend.

You gotta risk big to win big (1)

Abcd1234 (188840) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756907)

If my ideas are indeed valuable, what is the best way to gain anything from them without investing too much financially?

What you're asking is impossible. If you really want to gain from your idea, then you're gonna have to take a risk. That's just life. And the willingness to take risk is what separates the plebs from the big winners.

And, for the record, I'm a proud pleb... I just happen to realize it. :)

Patent in another country (1)

thePig (964303) | more than 4 years ago | (#29756991)

Another option that you can think of is to patent it in another country. Say, India/China etc.
The patent will cost you very less - even if you go for a big shot lawyer, it will cost you in the range of 2000$ or less.

Now, once it is patented, you go about implementing the same and try to sell it in the patented country.
If it makes enough money, you can apply for a PCS form to patent it internationally or maybe in US alone.

Please note that patenting usually does not guarantee you any income. The stats suggest upwards of 90% of patents does not generate any revenue at all.
But still, it could be because most patents are done by companies trying to increase their image in the market.
Also, it would be better for you try to implement the same before you patent it, since you might otherwise miss some important points which crop up during implementation.

Another point is that - if you are a techie - is that even implementing is somewhat easier compared to marketing and selling.
Best of luck anyways.

With all my decades of education, with all my wit, (1)

unity100 (970058) | more than 4 years ago | (#29757033)

all my intelligence and experience from my time on this earth, i will put my opinion as elaborately and as eloquently i can in the form below :

fuck that.

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