This is kind of a follow-up to the Crowdfunding; I haven't actually kicked it off yet because some of the work that's going to be announced, I believe should be patented.

And thus my foray into the world of patents.

The first conversation I had with a professional (2 representatives, one attorney, one patent agent) in a big name law firm yielded this:

$12,000 to $15,000 for a full on patent application.

While I think what I'm going to do is pretty cool, I'm not nearly so certain as to cough up that amount for patents which might ultimately govern something which nobody cares about.

So, the next step was to investigate alternatives.

The first 2 web sites anyone should look at are:

USPTO.gov (the US patent office)
and
Google.com/patents

The former is where you can find forms and what not, as well as search within patent applications to see if your unique idea is, in fact, unique.

The latter is patents already granted, along with applications.

Having done so - and unsurprisingly finding the general area I was looking to patent is had significant coverage, but that what I was doing specifically was not covered (I think), the next step is to look at provisional patents.

Provisional patents are kind of a toe dipping version of a patent. You file it much like a patent, paying a much smaller fee, but you only get the 'filing date' rather than a patent itself. More on this later. What it really means is that your claim is registered to have been filed and that you have one year to file an actual patent application. Or in other words, you don't have protection yet but can get it later on and would have ownership with an earlier claim than someone trying to copy you.

Of course, the devil is in the details.

The provisional patent application - as well as a full-on patent application - is dated at filing. If changes are made, then the changes also change the filing date.

Thus in the case where the magic invention had to be tweaked in order to make it work, or work better, or whatever, the provisional patent/patent would likely have to be changed. This also opens the door to someone copying the invention (being first to file) as it works vs. as it was originally filed for or conceived.

This in turn leads to all sorts of language by which you're supposed to make - as general as possible - your application so that you're both less likely to have to revise and are more likely to achieve patent coverage for some area which is worth money.

Obviously the exercise of this can be very close to patent trolling.

A few notes - the US recently joined the rest of the world in that filing date is all that matters. Before, there was 'invention date'. Thus the paperwork is very important.

Secondly, a provisional patent for an individual is much cheaper. If you make less than $150K - and fulfill a few other requirements like the number of provisional patents filed, patents under your name, etc etc - then a provisional patent cost is only $65.

In contrast a provisional patent filed by a large corporation would cost $260. The full fee list can be seen at:

http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/.../fee031913.htm

The application fees for an actual patent application aren't so much different than a provisional, but the other fees associated with a patent application are not cheap at all.

Anyway, this process is only the first step because this only covers US patents. If you have a product which can function internationally, which I do, then the next concern is international.

The PCT is a treaty which most (but not all) nations are signatory to. Most nations don't have provisional patents, but the PCT links everything together in terms of filing date. If you're looking at electronics, for example, you have to not just worry about a PCT application, but also a separate application for Taiwan (which isn't signatory to PCT).

Some timelines:

Start of process - Provisional patent

Next waypoint: 1 year after provisional patent filed, must apply for full patent. PCT application would be at this point as well.

Next waypoint: 18 months after first provisional patent filed, your application is published (i.e. other people can see it now)

Next: 30 months: This is where the various national filing would be.

20 years: full term of patent

Anyway, I'm not either a patent agent or a patent attorney, so do your own research. Hopefully this is of benefit though.

p.s. the big law firm - declined to even review the provisional patents I'm writing up. However, I have been told by patent attorneys that this is not the rule.