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How To Patent An Idea

How to Patent an Idea (+ A Step-By-Step Guide)

Joshua Julien Brouard

Joshua Julien Brouard

13 June 20247 min read

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How to Patent an Idea (+ A Step-By-Step Guide)

In a way — yes, you can patent an idea, but that idea has to be tangible (i.e., an invention).

Unlike how we'd typically think of ideas, this means that you'll need detailed descriptions and concrete products or processes.

I'll explore how you can patent your idea in more detail in this article.

What exactly is a patent?

But first, we all must understand what exactly a patent is.

At the root of it, a patent is a legal document.

However, this legal document provides a patent holder the exclusive rights to:

  • Make,
  • Use,
  • Sell,
  • Or distribute an invention for a particular period.

Patent law provides inventors with a temporary monopoly over their inventions — this encourages innovation and allows creators to potentially recover the costs of research and development.

How do patents differ from copyrights or trademarks?

Patents, copyrights, and trademarks are distinct forms of intellectual property protection.

Patents protect new inventions and significant improvements to existing inventions, such as processes, machines, and compositions of matter.

They must be novel, non-obvious, and useful, and the protection typically lasts 20 years from the filing date.

For example, a pharmaceutical drug would be protected by a patent.

Copyrights protect original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium, covering literary works, music, films, software, and more.

The protection usually lasts for the author's life plus 70 years, allowing creators exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, and perform their works.

Examples include a novel, a song, or a software program.

Trademarks protect symbols, names, and slogans identifying goods and services, preventing consumer confusion.

Trademark protection can last indefinitely with continuous use and active defense.

Examples include the Nike swoosh or the phrase “Just Do It.”

At Trademarkia, we can assist with every form of intellectual property protection. Contact one of our intellectual property attorneys today to protect what's yours!

What qualifies as a patent?

So now that we better understand what a patent is, what can you patent? And what are the criteria for patentability? Let's explore.


There are several different categories of inventions that you can patent — these include (1) processes, (2) machines, (3) articles of manufacture, (4) compositions of matter, and (5) improvements of existing inventions.

However, for these to be patentable, they need to fulfill three criteria:

  • Novelty — It mustn't have been publicly disclosed before filing.
  • Non-obviousness — It shouldn't be obvious to someone with ordinary skill in the relevant field.
  • Utility — The invention should serve some purpose and be useful in an industry.

What can't you patent?

So now that I've discussed what qualifies as a patent, it's equally important to address the flipside—what can't you patent?

You can't patent anything considered a “natural discovery.”

For example, let's say you're hiking and come across a plant variety that has never been discovered. Just because you're the first to stumble across it doesn't mean you can patent it.

Secondly, you can't patent abstract ideas; this includes:

  • Mathematical concepts,
  • Formulas,
  • Or algorithms.

This same thinking applies to attempts to patent abstract artistic works.

Without technical application, these aren't patentable.

What are the different types of patents, and how long are they valid?

There are three different types of patents, these include:

  • A utility patent: A utility patent is the most common type. This covers new and useful inventions such as machines, processes, and improvements on existing inventions. A practical example of this? A new kind of engine.
  • A design patent: These protect the ornamental design of a functional item. Think of the unique shape of a new smartphone.
  • A plant patent is the least registered type of patent. It's granted for the asexual reproduction of new and distinct plant varieties.

Interested in learning how to get a patent? Read our complete article “Patent Filing 101: Simplifying the Patent Filing Process.”

Is it worth patenting an idea? (the top 4 benefits)

It's usually worth going through the patent filing process (provided you're willing to make the investment).

Official federal patent protection has numerous benefits, including:

  • Exclusive rights: Acquiring federal patent protection provides exclusive rights over your invention. What does this mean? Others won't be able to make, use, or sell your invention without your permission. This prevents bad actors and patent infringement.
  • Competitive advantage: Federal patent protection prevents competitors from exploiting your invention or inventive process, giving you stronger market protection
  • Enhanced company valuation: Patents are intangible assets that can increase your company's value.
  • Greater credibility: Patents increase the credibility of your or your business, in your industry.

How much does it cost to patent an idea?

The cost of patenting an idea in the form of an invention varies depending on several factors, these include:

  • The type of patent applied for (i.e., design, utility, or plant patents).
  • The complexity of the invention.
  • The geographical scope of the invention.

Contact a patent lawyer today or peruse through our website to determine how much it'll cost to patent your invention.

What are the steps to patenting an idea?

Ready to patent your new invention? Follow the following steps:

Step 1: Document your invention

The first (and most important) step to patenting an idea is to actually document it.

This means:

Create a detailed and comprehensive record of your invention.


  • What your invention is,
  • How it works,
  • And what problem it solves.

This may include (a) diagrams, (b) sketches, and (c) technical drawings.

Please also include any prototypes you may have of your invention.

It's also good practice to keep a "digital logbook" where you record the development process steps.

Step 2: Conduct a patent search (or get one conducted for you!)

This is a crucial step in the patent registration process.

Without conducting a patent search, you may end up filing a patent, spending money, only to later find out that your application has been rejected.

It's vital to ensure your patent is truly novel and not already patented.

You can conduct a search yourself on the USPTO website, or alternatively:

Contact a patent attorney who can conduct a comprehensive patent search for you.

Step 3: Determine what type of patent you need

As discussed earlier, there are three different types of patents: (1) utility patents, (2) design patents, (3) and plant patents.

At this point in the patent filing process, deciding on the correct type of patent for your invention is vital.

Step 4: Prepare your patent application (or get in touch with a patent attorney)

At this point, I highly recommend that you contact a qualified patent attorney who can ensure the success of your patent application.

Drafting a patent application can be complex.

Ensure that you (or your attorney) include:

  • A detailed description of your invention
  • Claims defining the scope of your patent
  • Drawings (if needed)
  • An abstract summarizing the invention

Step 5: Examination and publication

If you've already made it this far, congratulations!

This is one of the last steps of the patent application process.

Here, a patent attorney from the patent office will review your application. There's also a chance that you may receive correspondence from the patent examiner.

You (or your attorney) will be expected to address concerns and make amendments as requested.

After this, for a specified period, your patent will be published.

Step 6: Receive your patent certificate

Well done! At this point, you'll receive your patent certificate.

Your patent will be protected for a particular period.

How to patent an idea worldwide

First, you must select which countries you seek protection in.

This means doing some research:

  • Figure out where your main market is
  • Where competitors operate
  • Where manufacturing will likely occur

Once you've figured this out, you should seek a patent in your home country (if you haven't already done so).

This will grant you a priority date — which is vital for international patenting.

(You have 12 months from the priority date to file applications in other countries.)

You (or your patent attorney) should use the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), which allows you to apply for patents in many countries simultaneously.

Contact a patent attorney to conduct an international patentability examination, which will allow you to make more informed decisions.

How do I get "patent pending" status?

A common question new inventors have is how they can actually acquire patent pending status.

Well, it's actually quite simple:

You'll receive a filing receipt once you've filed your application with the USPTO.

Once you've received it, you may legally label your invention with the coveted "patent pending" status.

Get your patent with Patent Express by Trademarkia

So, yes, you can patent an idea if it's made into a tangible invention.

(You can only protect something tangible, of course!)

With federal patent protection, you can enjoy exclusive rights to your unique invention or inventive process, providing you with a short-term "monopoly" and all the related benefits.

Ready to secure what's yours? Contact one of our patent attorneys at Patent Express by Trademarkia and protect your unique inventions.


Can you patent an idea yourself?

Yes, you can file a patent yourself. However, patent law has many nuances, so it's highly recommended that you contact a patent attorney who can help you navigate the patent process and ensure successful registration.

Can you patent an idea for free?

No, you can't patent anything for free. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has fees for patent applications that vary depending on the type and complexity of your invention.

What are the five requirements of a patent?

The invention must be:

  • Of patentable subject matter,
  • Novel and original,
  • Unobvious to people of ordinary skill in the relevant field,
  • Useful and have practical application,
  • Adequately disclosed with detailed descriptions in the application.

How do you patent an idea that already exists?

You can't patent an existing idea unless it's an improvement on an existing invention that isn't obvious or original.

Can you patent an idea without a prototype?

Yes, you can patent an idea without a prototype. The critical requirement is providing a detailed and precise description of the invention in your patent application. This description must be sufficient for someone skilled in the relevant field to understand and reproduce the invention. Your application should also include specific and precise claims that define the patent protection's scope and any necessary drawings or diagrams that help explain the invention. A physical prototype isn't required as long as these elements are met.

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Joshua J. Brouard has a diverse background. He has studied bachelor of commerce with a major in law, completed SEO and digital marketing certifications, and has years of experience in content marketing. Skilled in a wide range of topics, he's a versatile and knowledgeable writer.