From Concept To Patent

This week I had some great satisfactions as an engineer. I got my first two patents filed. I have other ones in the pipeline, but they will still need some time. The road from the idea conception to this point has been a 6 months of hard work and problems, but also great fun.

My goal is to share with you the following concept: A patent is a business tool. It protects the core of a business, allowing it to grow and spread without competitors. Thus, as an engineer, if you got an idea in which you believe I suggest to ask immediately the advice of a patent attorney. Do not let anyone else judge the patentability of your idea. If your idea is worth something, most likely there is a way to protect it. Maybe you will be able to protect just the “appearance”. Or maybe you can protect a small feature of your entire invention. You may even need to twist your original idea, to make it patentable. Still, you will have a competitive advantage towards the others. In the end this translates into profits.

Inventions and patents were something way over my boundaries. Something reserved for PhDs or highly specialized people. When it comes to electrical and mechanical engineering, I imagined a patent as something extremely complex, which uses top notch materials and alien features.

That is so wrong. As a colleague of mine said: “the most powerful thing about patents is that few people know how they works”. And this is confirmed by the fact that rarely there are occasional inventors in a company. Engineers that file one patent, usually tend to file several other ones. They know the rules of the game and they exploit that knowledge. There is not a receipt for inventions, and is not my intention to make one. However, I will tell you about the story of my inventions, hoping that it may be of any help to you. I will assume you know the basics of a patent. If not, have a look here: European Patents – Handbook and U.S. Patents – Information

I failed several attempts to invent something good for my company. Some ideas were unfeasible, other not profitable while other ones just got stolen.

So I learned the most important lesson: to keep my mouth shut. There is a thirst of new ideas out there, thus you may disclose your thoughts only to trusted people.

My brain starts shuffling ideas when faced to a “Market Pain”. A market pain is a struggle of someone willing to pay to solve it. It can be the need of saving time/money, improving safety or opening new opportunities. After a bit of Googling, asking around, mails and phone calls I get to a first idea. That is the “eureka” moment. After an extensive prior art search (i.e. if my idea already exists) starts the real and exciting engineering job. I analyze the concept in its main features, testing each one towards the current technology. I do calculations about forces involved, dimensions, costs, savings, benefits and so on. When all the reality checks are done, here is the “invention”, which most likely is still useless but somehow promising.

So it is time to gain consensus among the decision makers. Answer questions, doubts and skepticism. It is time to face constructive people and destructive ones. I learned the hard way to postpone as much as possible facing the destructive people. When an idea is still weak and young, I prefer nourish it with creative people, which see solutions where most others see limitations. I got lucky enough to meet several of these “hidden gems”, which were able to feed my ideas and let them grow strong and healthy.

After convincing the managers about the business benefits of my ideas, they approved to patent my inventions. Thus, i began working with the patent lawyers. There was a lot of writing, sketching and modelling in order to give them all they needed to write the patent applications. It was frustrating to experience how it is hard to communicate a concept to someone else than yourself. The other person may have another background or a different way of understanding concepts. My ideas were drilled, twisted, rephrased and re-framed in order to make them as strong as possible. The refrain of a patent lawyer is: novelty, inventive step, enablement. This is basically all they want to get from you. Your invention needs to have novelty: no one ever in history must have published anything that resemble your idea. If a kid wrote on its 1956 school journal about a machine able to wash clothes using an electric engine connected to a basket, goodbye washing machine patent. Your invention needs also to have an inventive step towards prior art: it needs to be non-obvious to a person reasonably skilled in the art subject of your invention. Thus, you probably cannot patent a washing machine with a faster electric engine in order to wash clothes faster. That would be just an obvious invention. Finally, you need to enable your invention: anyone skilled in the art subject of your invention needs to be able to read your patent and manufacture a working product. These three concepts are extremely complex to assess and they require extensive knowledge. Thus, let only the patent attorney make a conclusion about the novelty, inventive step and non-obviousness of your invention.

When the patent attorney finishes the patent application, voilà. Your patent is filed. This means that the government office will keep your patent secret for 18 months before approving/rejecting the patent. For 18 months nobody will know about your invention, but you are registered as the first one inventing it. Filing a patent does not mean you have a patent, it just mean your patent application is pending. However you could start disclosing your invention to colleagues or potential customers. Still better to keep it low profile. You do not want the competitors to know what you are doing.

Thanks for reading!

By the way, filing a patent often costs between 3’000 € and 10’000 €, depending on complexity.

To conclude, below you will see the first patent ever issued in U.S., the U.S. patent number “1” and the the light bulb patent of Thomas Alva Edison:

July 31, 1790. The first patent issued in U.S. signed by George Washington.
Patent US 1.
Patent US 223898. The light bulb!

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