When talking to inventors, one question just won’t go away: ‘Should I patent my invention?’
It’s fiendishly difficult to answer because so many facts about that specific invention, and the inventor’s plans for it, need to be known and digested first.
A short answer is impossible, while a long and diligent answer may have to contain so many ifs and buts that the inventor comes away feeling more bewildered than enlightened.
But if forced to take a soundbite approach, here it is:
A patent will cost a lot of money, so it has to be worth even more. And for many inventions, it never will be.
So work backwards. Estimate how much money your invention will make for you per year. That’s actual cash, in your bank account. For many products an inventor’s cut may be no more than a penny or two per unit sold (not just made). Figure out how many units will need to be sold just to cover your patent costs. Many inventions will fall short, or be highly marginal. If yours is one of them, a patent probably isn’t for you.
If you can’t estimate the potential earnings from your invention, then (a) you haven’t done enough homework and (b) you need to read A Better Mousetrap.
Money in pocket – or out of it – is the calculation that matters most. But if that doesn’t clear up the question of whether you should get a patent, here’s another soundbite:
The real cost of a patent isn’t the cost of getting it. It’s the cost of enforcing it.
If you need to enforce or defend your patent, all legal costs have to be met by you. And they will be very high. And you might never get them back.
If you’re an individual or SME, a big company will have no scruples about using the fear of crippling legal costs to intimidate you into submission. In such a situation, your patent will be no use to you whatsoever.
So what’s the advantage of a patent? For many individuals and small businesses it’s increasingly hard to see one.
You may of course get lucky. Income from your invention may amply cover your patent costs, and competitors may leave you in peace. But either way it’s a risk. With patents nothing is guaranteed, so patenting an invention should never be something that you rush into quickly or without a lot of hard-headed and thorough calculation first.