There are three different ways to protect original inventions, written work and representative names and symbols. They are patents, copyrights and trademarks. Copyrights apply to original works of art or written work. Trademarks protect representative symbols or company names. A patent, meanwhile, protects an invention. There are several steps to applying for and receiving a patent.
Items you will need
Original invention prototype or blueprint
Pick a patent type. The United States government is responsible for granting patents. A patent will effectively protect an invention from other parties trying to make, use or sell the patented product. A patent is valid for only a certain period -- usually 20 years, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. If you have an idea which improves a product, process or extant invention it can be patented. An original machine, manufactured item, process or a new composition of matter can be patented. Patents are also available for ornamental designs of manufactured items and asexually reproduced plants.
Research established patents. Once you have conceived of and planned or developed a prototype of your patented item, you need to ensure that your product has not been previously patented. This can be accomplished through the United States Trademark and Patent Office website (see Resources). An intellectual property attorney or agent can be a lot of help in researching existing patents and the patent process.
Select a patent. There are three types of patents that can be applied for with the U.S. government. A design patent covers ornamental characteristics of the item proposed in the patent. New types of asexually produced plants fall under the plant patent. A utility patent is the most common. This type of patent covers new items for manufacture, machines, processes and new compositions of matter.
Submit your paperwork and pay the fee. The fee for your patent will vary based on the type of application you file. The first type of application is a provisional application. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, it costs $110 as of 2011. If approved, the provisional patent application will give you 12 months of "patent pending" protection. After 12 months, you have to file a nonprovisional application if you intend to keep the invention patented. A nonprovisional application involves much more paperwork and a higher fee. As of 2011, the cost of a nonprovisional application is approximately $545.
If the patent office accepts your application, there is an issue fee of approximately $755. After receiving the copyright, there are maintenance fees due every few years. The first payment at 3.5 years is approximately $490. The second fee due after seven years is approximately $1240. The final amount due after 11.5 years is approximately $2,055.
Once you have an invention, file for the patent pending nonprovisional application immediately. This will make companies more likely to set meetings with you concerning the invention than if you did not have your idea patented.
Your provisional patent will expire after 12 months. To prevent this, the nonprovisional application must be filed before the 12-month expiration.