Goofy cat photos, pet rocks and a flatulent app – all are simple (dare we say dumb?) ideas that reportedly made their creators millions.
Do you have a fabulous idea? Great! But this is just the first step on the path to riches. If you’ve got a great idea percolating in your head, you need to take action now before someone else does.
Consider these tips to turn your idea into reality:
Step 1: Do your research
Before you spend time, and possibly money, on your invention or idea, you need to make sure it hasn’t already been created.
Internet searches are always a good place to start, but don’t stop there. Go to uspto.gov and search for existing patents and trademarks.
You’ll also want to do some market research to determine whether there’s actually demand for your product or idea. However, before you start sharing your plans with too many strangers, see Step 3 below.
Step 2: Develop a business plan
The next step is to create a business plan. Even if your idea isn’t fully formed yet — or perhaps especially if it isn’t fully formed — you need to know how much money you can afford to spend and what the process of developing and marketing your idea looks like.
If you’re not sure where to start, you may want to arrange an appointment with SCORE, a nonprofit organization through which business people volunteer to mentor and advise small businesses and startups. Another option would be to contact your local Small Business Administration office to see what services they offer. The SBA website offers a wealth of information about how to write a business plan, estimate your costs, figure out taxes, and deal with more issues associated with startups.
Step 3: File for a patent if applicable
The law regarding patents changed dramatically a few years back.
Prior to the 2011 passage of the America Invents Act, the first person to invent a product retained exclusive rights to sell or license it for 20 years. That meant inventors could write their idea in a journal and have it signed by a witness as proof of the invention date. Then, they would build a prototype, do some tinkering and eventually get around to filing for a patent once the wrinkles were ironed out.
However, the 2011 law switched the system to a first-to-file/first-to-disclose model. It no longer matters who came up with the idea first; instead the 20-year exclusivity rests with the person who first publicly discloses it. Or if no one publicly discloses the idea, then the first to file for the patent wins the rights.
TechCrunch has a good article on the law and how various scenarios play out.
The bottom line is you have two options to protect your idea, and each gives you only a year to work out the specifics:
- You can publicly disclose the idea (such as via a blog post), and the law gives you one year to file a patent application.
- You can file a provisional patent application, and the law gives you a year to turn it into a permanent application.
So again, before you start having too many private conversations about your big idea, make sure you have taken the appropriate steps to protect it from thieves.