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Protecting Your Idea With a Patent Isn't Cheap, Part 1

Understanding the different types of patents is the first step in protecting your idea.

Many people think that sending a registered letter detailing their idea to an attorney, friend or themselves (and then keeping it in a safe place, unopened) provides protection. Wrong--it doesn't. The only legal form of protection recognized by the judicial system is a patent. And as you may already know, obtaining a patent isn't cheap. 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. 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.

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