What Price Protection?

Patent ABC's

To determine how much money you'll need to spend, you should first understand the two types of patents that most often apply to entrepreneurs:

  • Design patent. A design patent protects only the appearance or ornamental design of your invention; jewelry and clothing are two examples. If you make changes to your design, you must file another design patent to protect the modified version. This patent is relatively easy to register for and is generally the least expensive to file. A design patent has a term of 14 years and requires no maintenance fees to keep it in force.
  • Utility patent. This type of patent protects the function or method of your invention. For example, my TopsyTail has a utility patent that protects the method by which users invert a ponytail using my device. Although this patent application is more complicated because it requires you to explain in detail how your invention is used, it provides greater protection of your idea. A utility patent is also more difficult to register for and almost always more expensive to file than a design patent. Its term lasts 20 years from the date of filing and requires maintenance payments about every four years to keep it in force.

After choosing the type of patent you want to apply for, you next need to decide whether to file the patent yourself or hire a patent attorney or agent to do it for you. I highly recommend getting help from a professional; I've heard of several cases in which an inventor filed his own patent only to see it get struck down in court. When it comes to patents, don't be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

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This article was originally published in the September 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: What Price Protection?.

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