Many people wrongly think patents are all about rewarding creativity and keeping ideas protected and secret, but actually the opposite is true: They’re about making sure inventors don’t keep their ideas a secret and that they share their creations with the public, says Eric Leininger, CEO of PatentDive, which makes software to guide inventors through the patent-application process.
Leininger notes that the idea of patents goes back hundreds of years to Venice, Italy, where glass artisans created stunning works of art. Their unique composition of materials produced many colors and textures of glass, and this information was often a strictly guarded secret, Leininger says. The problem was that when an artisan died, the details about his unique methods and compositions would die with him, so no one could replicate them. The government didn’t want people to be afraid to share their ideas and advancements, he says, so the patent process was introduced to make sure people would keep sharing new information.
This was one of many interesting tidbits Leininger shared at a recent Tech Park Academy session at the Louisiana Technology Park. Read on for his advice on navigating the patent application process.
Evaluate Your Idea
You have a great idea and now you want to protect it. What should you do? Your first step, Leininger says, is to see whether a patent is even feasible. Begin by asking yourself some questions.
Is my idea reasonable? Your idea doesn’t have to actually be built or coded in order to be patented. It can still be theoretical, but it needs to be something that could conceivably work one day. Right now, for example, there are patents for underwater energy harvesting volcanoes, which don’t yet exist but are patented in case they ever happen, Leininger says. But a patent for something like harvesting moon energy to power a time machine is not reasonable and would not be granted.
Is it useful? The idea has to be not just reasonable but useful. You can’t patent a stick, for example, unless you can show a new and unique purpose for its use.
Is it legal? You can’t patent any ideas that are against the law or public policy, and you can’t patent anything used solely for deception.