Recently I had an idea that seemed patentable. I've been through the patent process a few times, once successfully, but it has been a number of years. So I wondered what it would cost to run my new idea through the system.

What do you think it costs to use attorneys to work through the patent system and obtain patents for the U.S., Europe, and let's say 16 more of the bigger countries?

Answer: Over $100K.

Sure, I could do the work myself, but who has that kind of time? And what are the chances that I could imitate the tortured language of a patent description well enough to make the patent office happy? Attempting that on my own seems like a big waste of time.

Worst of all, you have to wade into the process before knowing if anyone has already applied for the same patent. It takes about 3-4 years to get a patent, because the patent office is so backed up, and there is an 18-month opaque period in which you can't view any ideas that are in the pipeline ahead of you. I went through this entire process once and in the end the patent office decided that someone else's patent, that had no obvious correlation to my idea, was broad enough to include it.

So what would a small inventor with limited resources do in a situation like this? You could find an investor to go in with you, but I imagine the investor would take half, or more, of whatever the upside was. And where do you go to find such an investor anyway?

This made me wonder if some sort of investment market for patent ideas could be created. Suppose that after the inventor files a provisional application, which is the first part of the process, and not outrageously expensive, perhaps investors could have a chance to fund the rest of the patent process in return for some stake in the outcome.

As things stand, investors can't view provisional patent applications. I assume there is a good reason for that. My guess is that it prevents claim jumpers from leaping into the patent process with a slightly better or broader version of your idea that you hadn't described well enough in the provisional application. I'm not sure that's a good enough reason to keep things secret. Perhaps inventors could have an option of remaining secret and funding things themselves or going public and attracting investors from an early stage.

This would serve as sort of a pre-patent filter for ideas. If an idea is patentable, but investors see little economic value in it, that's good to know before you spend a bundle for a patent. And if investors see great potential, they would bid down the percent of equity they require in return for funding it. In other words, someone might be willing to fund a great patent idea for a 10% equity stake whereas a merely good idea might require 50%.

I'm sure there's a problem with this scheme, or it is already being done in some fashion. Let me know.
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Aug 6, 2009

Check out Nathan Myhrvold's (the former CTO of Microsoft) company, Intellectual Ventures, which is, as I understand it, trying to solve part of the problem that you have described.

More at: http://www.intellectualventures.com/

A couple of relevant excerpts from the site:

1) We also acquire and license patented inventions from other inventors around the world.

Like most companies, our growth stems from internal efforts as well as acquisitions and partnering arrangements. We develop inventions internally and we buy them or license them from external inventors. This is similar to product companies who add product lines through acquisitions or OEM relationships and marketing companies who acquire and combine other channels of distribution. Through acquisitions and partnering, we can create more comprehensive portfolios of inventions. A broader portfolio benefits potential clients by providing more inventions from a single source, and it benefits inventors by giving them a greater chance of commercial success by being part of a more comprehensive offering.

2) Our network of invention sources includes: large and small businesses, governments, academia, and individual inventors.

Our acquisition and partnering model has been embraced by a wide range of organizations (large and small, private and public, commercial and not-for-profits, academic and research institutions) and individuals. For some, they view working with Intellectual Ventures as a way to commercialize their R&D efforts. For others, they look at it as a way to fund additional R&D and ongoing patenting efforts. Regardless of the purpose, they are pleased that we are developing a market for inventions and a commercial outlet for their inventive efforts.

+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 6, 2009
Yep, those high costs are precisely why the guy who invented the iPod, didn't invent the iPod. It would have cost him GBP 60,000 to renew the patent in 120 countries in 1988, so he let it lapse.


Aug 6, 2009
There is a non-profit organization associated with the local university that helps inventors with the patent process. It is staffed by engineers who decide on the patentability of the invention, and lawyers that see it through the process. It also helps find grants and other funding. The university itself runs all of it's patents through this organization, but it is available for independent inventors (especially alumni) if they can convince a panel that it is worth pursuing.

There are of course costs associated (it's non-profit, not volunteer) but these costs are both subsidised by numerous grants and in all is much cheaper than finding the the same level of proffessionals yourself.

I would think many universities with a heavy reasearch focus will have a similar body.
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Aug 6, 2009
I have met a person who is an expert on golf ball patents. That's his job. He knows everything there is to know about golf ball patents. If you have an idea of something to do with a golf ball, and want to patent it, you run it by him first - he knows if it's similar to something that's already patented. If it is, you don't bother.

I imagine (now I think about it) that similar people must exist for other fields.
Aug 6, 2009
There's nothing to prevent you from showing your provisional patent application to an investor. And they can't steal it, since you've already filed a provisional.
Aug 6, 2009
In the UK its called Dragons Den, its a TV show where budding business people, inventers etc, take their ideas to 5 very weathy "dragons" to be humiliated and told that their product or service has the same potential as a 7 and a half dead cats on the M1 (M1 is a moterway, or Highway for our American bretheran) Occasionally there are ideas that the dragons invest in, and hand over lots of Green for a stake in the buiness, the riskier the venture the more equity they want. 40% seems average.

Failing that try Americas (not) got talant, If Simon Cowel wont invest in you your not going to make money...
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Aug 6, 2009
I could organize a patent through EU for 1500$ max. (friends in the Patent Buro in Lithuania, etc.) Interested?
Aug 6, 2009
That is, I believe, what they are attempting to accomplish at http://www.planeteureka.org/marketplace/.
Aug 6, 2009
You may be able to find out if your idea has already been patented by using 'google patent search'. There are others as well. Just google 'patent search' and you'll get a plenty of ways to see if your idea has already been taken.
Aug 6, 2009
A former client of mine is indeed working on such an IP market -- and, of course, they have patent protection of their own.

Under federal and state securities laws, however, even though you have taken stock ownership out of the equation, these investments would still likely fall under the legal definition of securities, which would require both your market and the inventors to comply with securities laws. In other words, you wouldn't gain much in terms of efficiency or saving on legal fees, etc.
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Aug 6, 2009
I have a great idea for a swizzle stick that comes attached to the inside cap of a bottle of gin so you always have something available to stir your Martinis. I'll call it the Swizzle-cap or something.

Please send me money (or beer) and I promise to cut you in on the huge profits.
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Aug 6, 2009
Oh... my... God. On Thursday August 6th, 2009 A.D., at approximately 02:40 GMT, I read a Scott Adams blog entry and thought to myself, 'Not only does this make perfect sense, but it would do wonders for small inventors, help to streamline the patent process without using a ton of public money and increase the general productivity of the nation.

I couldn't immediately think of any, 'yeah but in reality this won't work because...' or any ' he just wrote that to make us monkeys dance."

And quite frankly... I'm a little bit scared
Aug 6, 2009
Sounds like an excellent idea. And sounds like I need to become a patent attorney.
Aug 6, 2009
ooooo! Whatisitwhatisitwhatisit?
Aug 6, 2009
File the provisional application, and then focus on commercialization. If/when you have funding for an actual product, the investors will likely fund the patent application, too.

And, rest assured that your technology will be obsolete before the patent publishes.
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