‘I’ve got a patent, now what do I do?’

I’m a regular visitor to numerous LinkedIn groups for inventors. Many posters are new to invention and want advice, and a not infrequent question is: ‘I’ve got a patent, now what do I do?’

If the laws of physics were different, the best answer would be: ‘Go back to when you first thought of your invention – then ask “Now what do I do?”’

Too many inventors rush out and apply to patent an invention, thinking it will open doors and improve their prospects of success. Maybe it will, more often it won’t. But in a way, that misses the point:

An early patent application is not a substitute for learning.

Thinking about it, and doing it

Invention falls essentially into two stages: thinking about it, and doing it. To avoid mistakes, it’s important to keep them in that order. If your first move is to apply for a patent, you’re doing without adequately thinking.

Thinking about it is the research stage. It’s where you search for prior art, in both patents and products, to find out how original your idea really is and how it compares to other solutions to the same problem.

It’s where you investigate the market to find out how much actual demand there might be for your idea. (There’s more detail in our book A Better Mousetrap – a cash course in the essentials of invention.)

And it’s where you can start finding out which companies might be interested in licensing or selling your invention.

That might sound wrong. Surely you wait until you’ve got something to show companies? Not necessarily. They won’t expect you to show up next day with a prototype.

Use research to save time and cut risk

As long as you don’t disclose detail that will form part of your IP, you can indicate what you intend your product or technology to do, and ask if it might in due course be of any interest to them.

You don’t need to tell them how long it’ll take to develop.

And maybe you don’t need to talk to them at all – just find them, study what they do, and rate them as prospects.

The advantage of doing this in the thinking/researching stage is that identifying and contacting companies – and waiting for responses – can be highly time consuming, so it helps to do as much of it as possible in advance. Then, when the time is right and you have something to show, you can hit the ground running.

Use planning to make ‘doing it’ more efficient

Make the thinking/researching stage as long and thorough as possible. Don’t rush. As we say elsewhere, invention is chess, not a sprint.

The beauty of thinking and researching is that it’s free, or at least cheap, with no real risk. Think and plan carefully, and the ‘doing it’ stage will be safer and more efficient.

The adage ‘act in haste, repent at leisure’ more or less sums it up. Don’t do until you know what to do and why you’re doing it.

That applies not just to patenting, but to everything related to your invention project: design, prototyping, development milestones, whether to license or self-market, which companies or partners to associate with – and, indeed, whether your invention is worth developing at all.

So if it’s your first invention, don’t get yourself into a situation where you need to ask: ‘I’ve got a patent, now what do I do?’ Learn, plan and prepare thoroughly, and you won’t need telling.

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