If you have a new marketable invention, it is important that you patent it as soon as possible. You cannot however patent an idea. The idea is the start of your invention process (the why), but you need to follow the idea through to developing a complete solution (the how). SO how do you protect the idea while you develop the patentable invention?
Many people try to mail themselves a letter, thinking the unopened postmarked envelope will offer some sort of protection. This is a misconception and will be of little use as evidence in court.
Protect Your Invention
If you are far enough in the invention process already, you may consider filing a provisional patent. This gives you a patent file date, but allows you an additional year to develop the invention before converting it to a non-provisional patent.
A provisional patent is a very cost effective solution to getting patent protection now. If you are not ready for any patent protection right now, the best way to prove when you developed your invention is documentation, more specifically an invention notebook.
The Invention Notebook
An invention notebook is a detailed record of the progression of your invention from conception to the final incarnation you file a patent for. A good invention notebook will use a bound notebook, such as inexpensive composition books. It is important to have frequent, dated, and detailed entries.
Include any variations or experiments you have tried and write down failures or dead ends. Make an entry for anything related to your invention. You can even go a step further and have very important entries notarized. You can also copy your notes periodically and have a notary initial each page, seal them in a package and have the notary then seal the package.
Keep your Ideas Organized
Remember, if your patent comes into dispute the case is going to be your word against another inventor’s – so the detailed information you have recorded in your invention notebook will paint a clear picture and make your story more believable. Apart from supporting you against possible patent litigation, an invention notebook can help you stay organized while developing your product.
If you have a centralized location to refer to information regarding your invention, you can avoid repeating mistakes and keep tabs on instances where you have disclosed your idea to others. One final note on the invention notebook, make your entries CLEAR! Do not chance losing out on your idea because your notes were so illegible that attorneys cannot verify the contents. Take the time to use readable penmanship.