Get All Access for $5/mo

Why Your Patent Is Probably Worthless Filing on inventions that aren't marketable just helps enrich the Patent and Trademark Office.

By Stephen Key

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Monty Rakusen | Getty Images

Getting a patent issued typically costs at least $10,000 and can easily cost upwards of $20,000. Most inventors who patent their inventions hope to get their money back after their invention begins selling in the marketplace. In reality, it rarely works like that. A very high percentage of patents never recoup their filing costs. Put more bluntly: They never generate any income, let alone what it cost to get the patent in the first place.

I've been helping inventors commercialize their product ideas and inventions for the past two decades. One of the biggest complaints I hear from inventors is that their patents are basically worthless. These inventors are frustrated and deflated. They're out of the game, because they've spent so much time and money on a single invention — an invention that will never produce them any revenue. They won't, or can't, try to bring another, better idea to market because they've wasted their resources.

Here are two main reasons why this happens, and what you should do to avoid being stuck with a worthless patent.

Related: Here's What Entrepreneurs Need to Know Before Patenting

1. The invention isn't marketable

Meaning, the invention is not really needed. You might have a dream and be extremely motivated, but first you need to do your homework. Because most inventors are very enthusiastic, and also terrified their unproven idea is going to be stolen, they rush the process, and in doing so, they make a critical mistake. They fail to answer the question, "Is this invention marketable?" It is not the job of a patent attorney or agent to determine the marketability of an invention.

In my experience, most inventors are familiar with the statistics. They understand the odds are stacked against them, and yet they still go for it. They believe their invention is the exception, not the rule. I get that. To bring a product to market, you have to have faith. But first and foremost, you need to educate yourself, and education isn't something most inventors are convinced they need. (What do they think they need? Expensive prototypes and expensive patents. You very well may need those things at some point, but it's matter of timing. And right away, before you've even tested the market, is never the right time.)

Most likely, you have created your invention in a vacuum. Yes, you've solved a problem you personally experience, but will others purchase it? People other than your friends and family? If not, when you try to license the invention, it gets rejected. When you try crowdfunding it, no one orders. The item just sits there.

2. You don't have manufacturing know-how

In this case, the invention was developed and patented without taking manufacturing into consideration. If a product cannot be manufactured at the right price point, it's dead on arrival. Unfortunately, this is also an all-too-common occurrence.

Usually, this means the invention was overdesigned. Many patents give no thought to manufacturing at all. It might be that no machine currently exists to make the item, or the tooling required is prohibitively expensive. For these reasons, no other company will be willing to take the product on, either — it's just too risky. If you try to venture the product yourself, you'll discover the cost to produce the equipment needed far exceeds your budget. And it's also not the responsibility of a patent attorney or agent to determine the manufacturability of an invention.

It doesn't have to be this way. Patenting an invention doesn't make you an inventor. Solving problems, designing solutions, using your creativity to make the world a better place; that's what makes you an inventor. Filing patents on inventions that are not marketable and cannot be manufactured just helps enrich the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

So, before you file any intellectual property, make sure to do the following.

A Google image search. Most of the companies that I interviewed for my new book, Become a Professional Inventor, told me that they can find a lot of the ideas they receive from inventors within just a couple of minutes using Google. For an invention to succeed in the marketplace, it must have a clear point of difference when compared to similar products.

A prior art search. Is your invention actually new? To find out, teach yourself how to search for patents that are similar to your invention using the United States Patent and Trademark Office's website or Google Patents. It's critical that you know about patents that have been issued that are similar to your invention, and you will find many. Armed with this knowledge, you can home in on your point of difference and determine the likelihood of getting a patent issued that will actually have value.

Related: A Primer on Patents

Determine the rough cost of manufacturing. If you design and file a patent on an invention that's too expensive for consumers to want to purchase, that's a major problem. So, knowing what it will cost to manufacture your invention can be extremely beneficial.

Start by identifying similar products on the market, like those on Amazon. What are they retailing for? That's your range. Contact contract manufacturers in the U.S. to get a quote, and make sure to have them to sign a work-for-hire agreement first. Don't overlook YouTube as an educational resource; you can learn about manufacturing there as well. You could even visit a facility in person.

Knowing how your product will be made and that it can be made at a price point the retail market will accept has great value, which is why you should include it in your patent application. This gives you leverage when negotiating a licensing agreement or raising money from investors, which is the first step toward striking it rich.

Stephen Key

Co-Founder of inventRight; Author of One Simple Idea Series

Stephen Key is an inventor, IP strategist, author, speaker and co-founder of inventRight, LLC, a Glenbrook, Nevada-based company that helps inventors design, patent and license their ideas for new products.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick


How to Close the Trust Gap Between You and Your Team — 5 Strategies for Leaders

Trust is tanking in your workplace. Here's how to fix it and become the boss your team needs to succeed.


6 Cost-Effective Ways to Acquire Brand Ambassadors

Boost your brand's visibility and credibility with budget-friendly strategies for acquiring brand ambassadors.

Health & Wellness

Get a Year of Unlimited Yoga Class Downloads for Only $23 Through June 17

Regular exercise has been proven to increase energy and focus, both of which are valuable to entrepreneurs and well-known benefits of yoga.

Growing a Business

He Immigrated to the U.S. and Got a Job at McDonald's — Then His Aversion to Being 'Too Comfortable' Led to a Fast-Growing Company That's Hard to Miss

Voyo Popovic launched his moving and storage company in 2018 — and he's been innovating in the industry ever since.

Side Hustle

'The Work Just Fills My Soul': She Turned Her Creative Side Hustle Into a 6-Figure 'Dream' Business

Kayla Valerio, owner of vivid hair salon Haus of Color, transformed her passion into a lucrative venture.

Business Culture

Why Remote Work Policies Are Good For the Environment

Remote work policies are crucial for ESG guidelines. Embracing remote work can positively impact your business and employees.