These days, though, there are questions about whether or not a patent is really worth it.
And, really, unless you're a pharmaceutical company or someone with a super-unique invention, a patent might not really be worth it.
Patents are Expensive
First of all, it's important to note that patents are expensive. You have to pay a fee to finish the patent process. If you want to make sure that your patent application is properly prepared, you should hire a patent attorney. That just adds to the expense. Just going through the patent process can be draining in terms of time and funds.
Then, once you have your patent, you probably feel as though you need to defend it. Once again, the attorney fees go higher. While it can be less expensive to license your idea than to defend your patent, you still have to deal with costs and time associated with these negotiations. It's not wonder that a study a few years ago determined that, for most businesses, a patent just isn't worth the cost.
Instead, it's possible to file a patent application for free, and receive “patent pending” status. You can put that information on your web site or product — and then let the patent application expire (it takes a year) before filing another free application. Most of those looking to copy will be scared by your “patent pending.” And “The Naked Inventor” John Richards indicates that you can keep doing this indefinitely.
Do You Want to Disclose Your Secret?
If you have a new technology, design, or interesting idea, the patent application process requires a great deal of disclosure. If you think you have a good thing going, and it's not a result that is terribly easy to figure out how to copy, a patent can put the information about how it works out there in the open.
Once it's in the public domain, it's possible for anyone — including your competitors — to get the details on how your awesome innovation works. Then, if they want to take advantage of it, they can alter an element just enough to make it considered completely different from a patent law perspective. This can be a big problem when it comes to certain design patents, as well as software and technology patents.
It's easier to keep proprietary secrets if you don't get a patent and let the cat out of the bag.
Will a Patent Really Help Your Business?
Before you engage in the time-consuming and expensive process of getting a patent, stop and think about whether or not a patent will really help your business. Consider the cost factor, as well as what you could be doing to build your business with the time you spend on preparing an airtight patent application.
For many companies, especially startups, the protection that a patent provides isn't worth the expense. You might be better off continuing to innovate and evolve your business, rather than waste the time and money with a patent.