Can You Patent an Idea? Your Guide to Patent Law & Protecting Ideas

If you’ve had that eureka moment, you’ll no doubt want to make sure that you’re protected by patent law before you start working on your idea.

However, it is worth discussing if you can even patent an idea.

The short answer to that question is no. If you are attempting to patent something that is just an idea, then it won’t happen. However, it is possible to patent an idea once it has become an invention.

So, how do you protect your idea?

Let’s explore these concepts and discuss how you should protect yourself when you’re creating something new and exciting.

How to Patent an Idea: Turning Your Idea into an Invention

Before finding out how to get a patent on an idea, you must understand the difference between an idea and an invention.

All inventions start with an idea. However, it is important to point out that not every idea is an invention, and that not every idea could be turned into one.

For an invention to be patented it needs to be patentable subject matter, useful, nonobvious, and original at the very least. It is not enough to say that you have come up with an idea for an invention, you would need to be able to show that it actually works.

For example, you could come up with an idea for a flying car, but unless you can demonstrate through your plans that you know how you would make the car fly, then your patent would not be granted.

It is essential that you know all about patents and how they work before you apply for one. It will save you time and money, and ultimately ensure that your invention is properly protected.For more on this please visit our Learning Center .

What is a Patent?

A patent allows you to register ownership of your invention. It is a property right granted by the federal government that allows you to prevent other people from making, altering, or selling your invention while your patent is active.

If you have a patent in place, it means that you can take legal action against anyone that steals or attempts to make money using your inventive concept(s).

In the United States, patents are looked after by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

However, the USPTO will only grant patents that meet a specific set of criteria.

What Types of Patents Are There and How to Patent a Product?

Before you take your idea to the patent office, it is important to understand the three types of patents that you can apply for. Determining which of these is most suited to your concept is essential. Each option has its own requirements that you’ll need to meet when applying.


The most common type of patent is the utility patent. This covers inventions that are both new and serve a useful purpose. These inventions could be machines, processes, manufactured items, or compositions of matter.

In practice, most inventions are a combination of these things. For instance, a vehicle will consist of processes, machines, and manufactured items.

In addition to creating a completely novel concept, you can also submit patent applications for a new and useful improvement of existing inventions. Utility patents can also be subdivided further into electrical, mechanical, and chemical categories.

A utility patent will protect how your invention functions. For our flying car example, as long as you can describe how it is made and used, this will qualify for a utility patent.

Additionally, there are two subsections of utility patents. These include software patents and business method patents.

Business method patents can be granted to those that create a new way of doing business.

Software patents may be granted to inventors of software that can pass the “the machine or transformation ” test.

It can be difficult to obtain software patents and business method patents. Often, inventions in both areas will fall under the umbrella of “abstract ideas,” which cannot be patented.Therefore, it is crucial that you fully understand the patentability requirements before attempting to patent either these two concepts.

Before you submit your application for a patent, you should ensure that there are no other products or inventions that have already been patented.


The design patent applies to the appearance of an invention. This will include information about the size, style, and shape of the invention. The design patent does not cover any of the functions of the invention. Therefore, it will only protect the way that the invention looks.This severly limits the amount of protection thar a design patent can provide. However, there are some inventions that focus mainly on their appearance, and can benefit from a design patent.

Before you submit your application for a patent, you should ensure that there are no other products or inventions that have already been patented.


The least commonly used patent is the plant patent. This relates to the discovery of new plants that are produced asexually.

Having a plant patent will protect the growth and sale of plant hybrids. This means that only the person that filed the patent may grow or sell this type of plant.

Before you submit your application for a patent, you should ensure that there are no other products or inventions that have already been patented.

Using a Combination of Patents

It is possible to use a combination of patents to protect different aspects of the invention.

For the purpose of patenting your ideas and inventions, a utility patent will be required to protect the concept. You may also want to patent the appearance of the product with a design patent if your product has a unique look and feel.

What Cannot Be Patented?

Even if you have a useful and unique invention that is either a machine, process, manufactured items, or compositions of matter, you cannot get a patent if it is:

  • A law of nature
  • A natural phenomenon
  • An abstract idea

As long as your idea does not fall into one of these three areas, then it should be capable of being patented.

How Long Do Patents Last?

The criteria for each type of patent will differ, as will the length of time that it is active. In addition to differing timescales, there are also different maintenance fees associated with each type of patent.

From the date of the application, the utility patent lasts for a total of 20 years. To protect your invention for the full 20 years, you will need to pay maintenance fees throughout the life of the patent. This could be quite expensive; however, it is worthwhile for the protection it provides.

After the 20 years are up, it might be possible to extend the protection, however, this will depend on the circumstances. Extending a patent beyond 20 years is quite rare.

Design patents only last for 14 years from the date that the application is accepted. Unlike the utility patent, there are no maintenance fees attached to design patents.

While a design patent may seem like a cost-effective option, you should consider the fact that a design patent does not protect the function of the invention, just the aesthetics.

For plant patents, there is 20 years of protection, and there are no maintenance fees.

Will the Patent Protect My Invention Internationally?

Once you have your invention patented, you might worry about manufacturers from other countries making copies of your invention. With the potential for lower-cost manufacturing, there would be a risk that these copies could really damage your sales.

Where do you stand with your invention’s patent internationally? Is there an international patent law?

Regrettably, United States patents will not protect your invention outside of the U.S. Although it could be argued that there are clear grounds for international patent laws, unfortunately, such a thing doesn’t exist.

Patent laws will differ between countries. There might be some universal aspects that apply to many countries, but not all of the points in United States patent law are applicable everywhere.

Researching the specific laws of the countries that you want to extend your patent to is essential.

There is, however, thePatent Cooperation Treaty . This makes the process of patenting your invention overseas a bit more straightforward.

The Patent Cooperation Treaty allows you to file patents across many different countries all at once through an international patent application.

If you are filing a patent in another country, you should keep in mind that you will need to pay maintenance fees for that country. This will vary, and you might have different tax obligations within that country.

With all of the complexity surrounding international payments and taxes, you should seek the assistance of an accountant.

How to Patent a Name?

While you cannot officially file a patent for a name, you can register a trademark for one.

Businesses often seek a trademark for the name of their company. A trademark can be filed through the United States Patent and Trademark Office and it protects your company name from being used without your consent.

However, this protection only applies for when someone is referencing your company, especially in situations where your company name contains common words. This is an important distinction because many companies use common words in their trademark, which means some overlap is possible.

How to Get A Patent

Once you have worked out whether you can get one, now you might ask how to apply for a patent.

Before you submit your application to USPTO, you should complete the following steps.

Building a Prototype

While it is not essential to build a prototype before your patent application, it can be useful to build one.

Your prototype can be used to prove that your idea works.

Building a prototype can also show you that your idea doesn’t work, or it doesn’t work as planned. Both of these options are important as realizing that your concept is flawed before you apply for a patent could save you time and money.

If there are areas that need improvement, your prototype is useful for highlighting them.

Carry Out a Prior Art Search

The last thing that you want to do is waste your time and money inventing something that someone has already invented and patented.

A prior art search will attempt to identify any existing inventions that are the same as your idea.

You should use theSeven Step Strategy as suggested by the USPTO.For help executing your prior art search review the Searching category in our Learning Center .

Write a Business Plan

A business plan is an important step that every inventor should take before investing their time and money into a project. The business plan will help you to see the pros and cons of patenting your invention.

Draft Your Patent Application

Once you have carried out your search, built a prototype, and created a business plan, then you will be ready to start drafting yourapplication for a patent .

To make sure that the function of your invention is protected, you should prepare a utility patent application. This can either be filed as a provisional patent application or a non-provisional patent application.

To protect any design features that are unique to your invention, prepare a design patent.

The patent claims are the most important part of the patent application. In this section, you must describe and define every detail of your invention. If you do not supply enough clear and complete information here, then your application may not be granted.

For help drafting your patent application review the Drafting category in our Learning Center .

File Your Patent and Market Your Invention

Next, we look at how to file a patent.

Under patent law, you are allowed one year to market your invention before laterfiling your patent application. This allows inventors to test the water and see if there is enough demand for their products.

It is recommended though that you file your patent before you do any marketing. If someone else were to take your idea and file their own improvements on your design, then they’ll be the one left holding the patent for your hard work.

The first-inventor-to-file rule is quite strict. Many inventors will find this rule harsh, but that is the world of patents. It’s vital that you don’t jeopardize your hard work by allowing the world to see your invention before you file for your patent.

How Can Patent Hacks Help

It is difficult to patent an idea. You need to be able to prove that your idea can function and that you know how to make it meet its intended purpose.

In addition to this, there will be many other requirements that your invention must meet before a patent can be granted. This makes the process of applying for a patent both long and tedious. Not only that, but you’ll need to get your head around some tricky legal concepts.

Patent Hacks:Learning Center is here to help. With a wide range of resources, we can provide you with the information that you need to ensure your patent application is a success.