Richard L. Miller


The Do's and Don'ts of Patents


DO: Write your idea down, including the date you wrote it down, and store it in a safe place.  

This creates a paper-trail showing that you had the idea by that date.  US law allows in many circumstances the person to first invent an idea can get a patent, even if they were not the first to file.  The law in this area is somewhat complex, so for more information please call us at 1-800-242-9853.

DON’T: Show your invention to the public.


Public disclosure, and even using your invention in public, is probably the most common, and most avoidable, way to lose patent rights.  In the US, it starts a ticking clock of one year, after which you cannot file for a patent which will be valid.  Also, it prevents you from getting protection in most other countries the moment you disclose it.

DO: Know the person you’re working with.



There are many big companies out there who try to prey on inventor’s dreams and charge outlandish fees for services which provide little if any value. Inventors should always work with an individual agent or attorney who is registered to practice in good standing before the US Patent and Trademark Office.

DON’T: Work with a company where you are not allowed to have an attorney/client privileged relationship with a registered patent agent or attorney in good standing.

Work with a company where you have to show your idea to someone who is not a patent agent or patent attorney in good standingThe best way to be informed of your rights and prepare a successful application is to work one-to-one with a registered patent agent or attorney.  I always work directly with my clients, without a salesperson in between.

DO: Contact a registered patent practitioner to begin the patent process.

The law favors the inventor who has not slept on his rights. Waiting increases the chance someone else will file for a patent on your idea before you do.  To begin the process for yourself click here.

DON’T: Let someone else patent your idea before you do.


About 6000 patents applications are filed every week.  With millions of inventors around the world thinking of new products and inventions, it is critical to file for a patent in a timely manner.

DO: File for the right kind of patent.

The two most common types of patent are a “design” and a “utility” patent.  Design patents only cover the ornamental appearance of an invention, without regard to its purpose.  Utility patents cover the structure of inventions, the way their parts cooperate among each other and their surroundings.

DON’T: File a “provisional” application.

A provisional patent application acts as a one-year extension to file for a non-provisional utility patent application, and can’t on its own get you a patent.  To be effective, a provisional application has to contain sufficiently specific details to describe your invention fully, or you may lose your right to obtain a valid patent.  Many provisional applications fail to meet this standard, and cause inventors to lose their rights.

DO: Know what kind of protection you need.

The two most common types of protection for a creation are patents and copyrights.  My office is ready to help you protect both types.  We can register an idea on your behalf, which is the only way to be sure of valid protection. To learn more about the differences between copyrights and patents, click here, or call my office at 1-800-242-9853.

DON’T: Think that a copyright can protect an invention.

Copyrights do not protect inventions. Copyrights only protect works of art, so a copyright could only protect someone from making an exact copy of your work of art.  Filing for a copyright instead of a patent allows others to still manufacture and sell your invention without your permission, and without infringing your copyright.

DO: Understand the meaning of “patent pending.”


“Patent pending” is a phrase that you see on all sorts of products.  Sometimes this leads people to believe that you can put it on your product as a form of preliminary protection.  But this is not true.  When a product says “patent pending,” it means that there has been a patent filed for.  Holding your product out as “patent pending” when you have not filed for a patent provides no legal protection, and is a federal crime.

DON’T: Rely on urban legends such as mailing a description or prototype to yourself as protection.

The only way to protect your invention is to obtain a patent. A patent is your deed to the invention, and gives you the right to prevent others from manufacturing, using, importing, exporting, or offering for sale your invention without your permission.  Without a patent, you cannot stop someone from doing these things with your idea.

DO: Have a registered patent practitioner prepare your application.

The preparation and prosecution of a patent application is an incredibly difficult task, and filing an improper application can be very costly in terms of fees required to correct the application, time lost in going back-and-forth to correct an application, and the strong possibility of losing your rights.  Having a professional patent agent or attorney prepare your application almost always results in a stronger application with more ironclad rights.

DON’T: Think you can teach yourself patent law in a weekend.


Patent agents and attorneys are required to take a special bar exam to show they know the intricacies and ethical requirements of patent law before they’re allowed to practice.  It takes years of experience to get the necessary skills to become a patent agent or attorney.  Even an attorney or an engineer does not have sufficient knowledge to successfully prepare a patent application without extensive specialized education in patent law, and to do so is fraudulent.

DO: Get more information about patents by ordering your free copy of How To Obtain a Patent

Your copy of How To Obtain a Patent will include a wealth of information about the patent process, as well as all the forms you need to begin the process of having my office represent you before the US Patent and Trademark Office.

Some of our successfuly patented products
How To Obtain A Patent

Copyright © 2010 Richard L. Miller, P.E.
All content is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice.
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