Should I patent my idea?

Should I patent my idea? Patent Pros and Cons

“Should I patent my idea?” is one of the most common questions that inventors face, and while it’s a totally valid question, most inventors are hesitant to discuss the question with their patent lawyer – probably based on the assumption that every patent lawyer will answer with a resounding “Yes!” just to sell their legal services.

To address this question properly, I put together the following description of the most significant considerations to take into account. Of course, everyone’s situation is different and your situation may lead to a different decision than someone else’s. So let’s review the patent pros and cons so you can make an informed decision that’s right for you. You will also need to consider whether your invention idea is ready for patenting or needs further development before it will be eligible for a patent. Here are the most significant patent pros and cons:

Why patent? The pros of getting a patent

Making Money

The most common reason why patent protection is sought is for making money. The rights afforded to you by a patent enable you to prevent other people from making or using your invention, selling it or offering it for sale, or importing it. These rights enable you to make money by giving you a monopoly on your invention so you can stop all competitors from even entering the game. You’ll be positioned as the only one in the market offering the invention, which gives you a tremendous competitive advantage. You can then monetize your invention by either manufacturing, licensing, or assigning. A patent lawyer can help you build the strategy that’s right for you.


Another great reason why patent protection is valuable boils down to marketability. Having a patent often makes a product more attractive to consumers. We constantly see advertisements and TV commercials refer to their product with the words “our patented technology.” In reality, whether or not a product is patented is irrelevant to consumers. Simply having a patent says very little about the quality of the product or what it’s capable of doing.

But for some reason, when people hear that a product is patented, or they see a patent number written on the product or its packaging, they tend to assume the product has a certain level of credibility, quality, or demand. Consumers often assume that the company who produced the product has a whole team of the best patent lawyers, who patented the product and just chomping at the bit to bring a patent infringement lawsuit against any copycats. In many cases, however, the only reason for patenting the product was to lend it credibility, even if it is only “perceived credibility.”

Note, that you can reap these benefits even on inventions that don’t qualify for a quality patent. That’s because consumers don’t make a practice of reading patents on the products they buy. Why would they? Even if they did, they wouldn’t be able to distinguish whether the patent is a financially valuable patent or not (unless he/she is a patent lawyer). Many inventions that a patent lawyer would advise are not patentable can actually be patented…but the patent would have little or no financial value. So again, simply having a patent says very little about the product itself. But most consumers don’t understand this, which is why patent protection offers more than just protection.

For that matter, the same is true for “patent pending” status. Seeing the words “patent pending” on a product, its packaging, or its advertising materials triggers certain emotions in consumers, such as trust and desire. Most people don’t realize that literally ANY invention can reap these benefits. The only requirement to claiming patent pending status is that you “filed” a patent application. You can “file” a patent application on ANY invention, regardless of whether you are eligible for a patent and regardless of your likelihood of ultimately having it issue into a granted patent.

The USPTO may reject your patent application and never grant you an actual patent, but you were able to claim patent pending status for marketing purposes for quite a long period of time. This is a common tactic due to the powerful marketing implications of infusing your marketing with buzzwords like “patent pending” that trigger emotions in consumers. The financial return of this marketing tactic often far outweighs the patent cost.

So next time you see a patent number or “patent pending” on a product, don’t be fooled. Indeed, many such products actually are very valuable and use these labels to help prevent competitors from stepping on their patent rights. But other times, the use of such labels is merely a marketing ploy – and you can use this tactic to your advantage too!

Marketing Yourself

In addition to marketing your invention, a patent can also be very useful for marketing yourself. Having a patent to your name can be quite impressive to employers, potential investors, on your resume, as well as to friends and family. The bragging rights are just another one of the great reasons to get a patent!

Ensuring Public Availability

Occasionally, an inventor has no interest in monetizing his invention idea. Instead, he is more interested in ensuring that the public will always have full access to the invention. Such inventors often look to get a patent to make sure that someone else can’t later patent the invention and prevent its free distribution.

While this can be accomplished by getting a patent, this should not be your reason why patent protection is being sought. There are other ways of accomplishing the same outcome while avoiding laying out money for the high patent cost. When inventors ask, “should I patent my idea?” and this is their sole reason why patent protection looks attractive, they need to talk with a patent lawyer about other more efficient alternatives.

The cons of getting a patent

High Patent Cost

Before rushing into hiring a patent lawyer, you have to consider the reasons why patent protection might not be right for you. One of the main considerations is patent cost. There’s the patent lawyer cost, the government fees that the USPTO collects upon filing the application, additional fees the USPTO collects upon issuing the patent, and still more USPTO fees throughout the life of your patent, called maintenance fees. Maintenance fees aside, the patent cost by the time of patent issuance often adds up to close to $10,000. You must have reason to believe this is a wise business investment before even starting.

It can be tempting to think you can avoid this issue by simply getting a “cheap patent.” I guarantee that right now you can jump on Google and find some company offering “$99 patents” or patents for only a few hundred bucks. Any reputable patent lawyer will tell you that your patent is not the place to cheap out, even if it means you won’t be able to work with a patent lawyer at this time. You get what you pay for, and it’s particularly important to keep this in mind when considering how to find a patent attorney.

Your patent will be the foundation for your entire business, and no business can keep competitors away long enough to generate decent profits if the business is built on weak intellectual property protection. Weak patent protection can cause tremendous, irreparable financial damage, and often can be worse than having no patent at all. Given the high failure rate of any business these days, business owners can’t afford to make unwise decisions early on, especially in the legal department. If you commit to building a business based on IP, you need to consider the patent cost an investment in a solid foundation that you can rely on.

Potential Liability

A final consideration to be aware of is that owning a patent makes you a potential target of lawsuits or proceedings to invalidate your patent. The USPTO goes to great lengths to make sure they only award patents that are deserved, but it’s still possible that a granted patent may not be valid in light of prior art that the USPTO examiner did not consider.

In this case, a competitor or potential infringer might try to invalidate your patent by bringing suit against your for declaratory judgment or by initiating special USPTO proceedings to review the validity of your patent. This is another major reason to be sure you are getting a quality patent by a patent lawyer that will devote the necessarily large amount of time and creativity when drafting your application.

Choose your weapon wisely

You now have an overview of some of the biggest factors to consider when asking yourself that age-old question of “should I patent my idea?” I will sum up with a quote from one of the greatest inventors of all time – Thomas Edison:

“Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success.”

Applying Edison’s wisdom to the patent pros and cons above, you can approach the “should I patent my idea” dilemma by asking the following questions: Will my invention sell? Will competitors want to sell it as well? Does my patent lawyer think my invention is eligible for the level of patent protection that will stop them? Will a patent or “patent pending” help sell my invention? Will I be able to sell enough to justify the patent cost?

Bottom line: A patent is a tool – a tool to make money or achieve whatever other benefits you’re after – if you don’t need it, don’t buy it. But if that tool is going to make the job a lot easier – or if it makes the difference between whether or not the job is even possible – then this tool can be a very good investment. And if you do decide to add this tool to your toolbox, ensure the tool you purchase is of good workmanship and won’t fail you when you need it most.

Again, “should I patent my idea?” is a question you may want to talk to a patent lawyer about (or better yet – talk to a few different patent lawyers) because answering this question will require you to weigh over the various pros and cons listed above. But now you’re in a much better position to start deciding on your own. And if you do go ahead and talk to a patent lawyer, you’ll be able to have a more meaningful conversation because you already thought through some of these issues ahead of time and won’t have to pay a patent lawyer for his time explaining these factors to you in a meeting.