Archive for the 'Legal Issues' Category


Patents 101

Almost every time my invention comes up in casual conversation, the person I’m talking to has an invention of their own rolling around in their heads. And of course, one of the first things people usually want to know is how to protect their idea. Since I’ve heard the whole “mailing yourself an envelope” trick just doesn’t cut it, I thought I’d list a few basic steps you can take toward protecting and possibly patenting your idea.

First: come up with a genius multimillion-dollar idea (c’mon… you know you have one!)

Second: start an inventor’s journal with dates, ideas, etc. I would suggest something that is hard-bound with the pages sewn in (I love Moleskine) so that the pages cannot easily be manipulated or lost. Every month or so, have a couple of witnesses sign your journal, testifying that the invention recorded is your original idea. At this stage, I’d also recommend getting a general-interest invention book like Inventing for Dummies and browsing the online forums (Edison Nation is a friendly resource). Another good idea is to check to see if any invention clubs are active in your area.

Next, once you’ve done some brainstorming and have a pretty clear idea of what your invention will look like and how it will function, you can file a provisional patent (PPA) with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In a nutshell, a PPA is like a “mini” patent: it’s only good for a year, but it does allow you to put “patent pending” on your product while it’s still in development or new to the market. If you feel comfortable with the technical writing/illustrations you can file this one yourself. I wrote my own PPA and filed it using Nolo’s online PPA application; total cost was around $250 (including the $100 USPTO filing fee). If you think you are ready for this step check out Nolo’s PPA Guide, a free PDF that outlines the pros and cons of filing a PPA.

The next step beyond a PPA is obviously to get a non-provisional patent (NPA). These are the “real” patents people think of when trying to protect their idea. NPAs are good for 15-20 years (depending on type) and give the inventor sole rights to the product in the United States. Sounds great right? Well, unfortunately, the down side is that filing an NPA can often be quite expensive–between $10k-$20k including legal fees–and are technically much more demanding than PPAs (meaning they are much harder to file correctly on your own). If you are at this stage in the inventing process and trying to decide on your next move, check out Patent It Yourself by David Pressman.

Obviously the process is much more complicated than what I’ve outlined here, but I just thought I’d put out a few steps to get you started. At the very least, get yourself that invention journal and put some ideas down! Just think: a twenty-dollar journal could make you a millionaire one day. Sounds like a bargain to me!

At the very least, you can will it to your grandkids.


Sarah Gupta, MD

Welcome to the "official" blog of the Buff Cuff, a resource for anyone interested in inventing or inventions. Happy reading!