Hey US Patent & Trademark Office- Explain It To Me Like I’m 5
Have you ever thought about how much easier it would be to be an entrepreneur if it weren’t for the IRS, USPTO, & every other vague state / federal agency?
Ok wake up- it’s probably not going to happen. Not this year anyway, but looking at the polls- ok we won’t go there!
The USPTO is the “US Patent and Trademark Office” — the government office responsible for deciding whether your idea deserves a patent, according to the patent laws. But how do they decide?
The patent laws say that ‘In order for a patent claim to be valid, it must propose a concept, idea, or item that is useful, novel, and non-obvious.’ Wait, what?!
At KISSPatent, we like to think patents and other kinds of intellectual property (IP) are for everyone — and we do mean everyone — who needs one. Of course, the operative word is ‘needs’. But how can a startup figure out what it needs from the vague legalese the USPTO gives us as a guide?
To help out the startup community, we’ve decided to break down the patent rules in plain English in an effort to encourage those who need a patent. We can help you to answer that oddly worded question: are you useful, novel, and non obvious?
The “useful” part of the question is easy — does your idea have a use? This question can be answered according to the benefit that your idea gives your user. All startups need to define their customer benefits or else no one will buy their product. A product which has a customer benefit can broadly be defined as “useful”.
Defining “novel” is also easy — it just means that your idea is new. If your idea is at all different from what’s already out there, then it’s new. It isn’t hard for your idea to be novel and in fact, unless you’ve copied your idea completely, your idea almost certainly is novel.
But it’s really hard to define “non-obvious” as this standard is subjective. Many court cases, arguments in Congress and hours of USPTO work have been applied to define this standard — and it still isn’t clear, especially for software. This definition is the hardest part of the patent laws to understand and to fulfill.
Plus “non-obvious” really depends on available technology when you first thought of your idea. After all gears were once super high tech inventions!
Now the standards have gotten tougher because there are so many ideas out there — and so many new technological advances. To be “non-obvious”, your idea has to have a wow factor. Do you have that wow factor? Let’s make it shine!
Now that you know what questions you need to answer, it’s time to answer them. The USPTO has very strict timelines for being able to file and if you don’t follow them, you risk not being able to patent your idea at all. We will touch on that in near future as well as determining patent worthiness, how a VC will deem your business investment worthy and how patents impact that and most importantly- how to navigate this process.
As an added resource for processing your patent, you can always reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and on social media. Look for us on Twitter @KISSPatent and Facebook at KISSPatent. We can get you in the right direction and have guides that can make your life as a founder that much easier!