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Inventor's Toolbox:
How to Check if you Really have an Invention Worthy of Investment

1.  Idea conceived and roughly assessed (i.e., functional, target customers / companies identified, estimated producible at acceptable cost for a price bearable in marketplace)

2.  Is concept covered in any of your signed employment documents?

3.  Try to buy it on the web at www.google.com using focused search strings.  Most products are not patented.  Pretend like you saw it somewhere and diligently search for it.  Remember, if it already exists and someone else owns the rights to it, you want to find out immediately to avoid spending further time and money on it.

4.  Try to find it on
http://www.uspto.gov/patents/process/search/index.jsp in the patents and applications sections using "shot-in-the-dark" and Manual of Classifications (MOC) approaches.  If a somewhat related product is on the market, find its patent number and look it up via patent number search ( http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/srchnum.htm ) to find its MOC code.  Then, search through that classification group.  Many patented ideas exist that have not made it to market.

5.  Considering other approaches, repeat steps 3 & 4 a few days after first pass.

6.  Ensure idea is still proven to function, target customers / companies identified, producible at acceptable cost for price bearable in marketplace.

7.  Decide upon degree of confidence that idea does not exist.  If still likely, engage attorney to have search completed.

8.  Is a patent necessary?  Maybe not.  See recommended reading below.

9.  File for a patent.  If Formal filing is planned (~$11,000) engage attorney.  If Provisional filing is planned, you can use an attorney (~$2,000), or you can write it yourself (~$200) but be sure you understand pros and cons.

10. Assuming Provisional approach is taken; include detailed description of the background, function, specification description, results etc.  Full disclosure is important.  You need to provide enough detail that an ordinary person having skill in the related art could make one.  Claims can be written later in the Formal patent filing, and claims that clearly read on this disclosure can use the earlier provisional priority date.  If you plan to file for foreign patents, be extra careful and see your attorney before doing anything.

11. Assuming royalty licensing is the strategy being pursued:

Additional Resources:
"How to License Your Million Dollar Idea" by Harvey Reese

Inventor's Assistance Center: http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/dapp/pacmain.html

Inventor's Resources: http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/iip/index.htm

Patent Glossary: http://www.bpmlegal.com/patgloss.html

Select top two companies to pursue, research them and estimate their G.M.  Royalty will likely fall into the 1/20th to 1/10th of gross margin range.  Front loads typically fall into the 20% - 30% of forecasted first year's sales range.  Front load can be positioned as advance on royalties or as an option to develop; non-refundable either way.

Plan presentation.  Make fully functional prototype and with custom literature, logo, etc.

Contact company - present only to person that can authorize royalty and front load.  It is tempting to settle for someone else at larger companies.  Don't! Just keep working to figure out a way to get 20 minutes of the key person's time.

Once you've filed a provisional patent, you have one year to get all this done, before you will need to file for Formal Patent.