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How to patent a product and protect your idea

How to patent a product: man happily comparing a photo of a robot to a real version

Key takeaways

  • A patent gives you exclusive rights to make, use, and sell an invention
  • Keep detailed documentation of your invention process to increase your chances of getting a patent and countering objections
  • File a provisional application to get short-term protection while you’re raising funds for the expensive, full-length patent process

When you’re ready to turn your brilliant idea into a highly profitable product, protecting your invention with a patent can go a long way. 

For example, what secured Alexander Graham Bell’s place in history as the father of the telephone was a patent. He wasn’t the first inventor of such a device, nor the only person who filed paperwork with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to claim it, but his timely filing of his patent application allowed Graham to claim rights to the invention and led to AT&T becoming the massive company it is today. 

By learning how to patent a product, you can similarly protect your idea and maximize your success.

Before pursuing a patent—a time-consuming and complex process—you need to understand the different types of patents and what goes into the patent process. Moreso, filing a patent application can be worth the effort for some ideas but not for others. Here’s what to consider about the patent system so you can make the best decision for your product.

What is a patent?

A patent is an exclusive right to a product, process, or design. A patent gives you control over how your invention is made, used, or sold. For example, if another company wants to use your patented machine part to produce a product of their own, they’ll either need to purchase the part from you or license your patent. Otherwise, you can sue for patent infringement.

Most patents last for 20 years, after which your invention goes into the public domain. This means anyone can use your intellectual property once your patent expires. A patent cannot be renewed past its set expiration date.

Types of patents

When you invent a new product, you can choose from three types of patents, each of which protects your idea in different ways.

Utility patent

Utility patents make up 90% of U.S. patents. They allow you to protect a:

  • Product
  • Specific process (such as Amazon’s one-click ordering)
  • Machine
  • Composition of matter (such as a new cement mix)
  • Article of manufacture, which is a physical item made by hand or machine

Plant patent

If you discover or invent a new plant, you can claim exclusive rights to it using a plant patent. For instance, people commonly patent different types of rose bushes and apple trees. To qualify for this type of patent, you must be able to reproduce the plant in a specific manner—”asexually” via cuttings or grafting rather than from seeds.

Design patent

Design patents cover new, original, and ornamental designs for an “article of manufacture.” For example, Apple has a design patent for the image of the iPod Shuffle, while Coca-Cola once had a patent for its curvy glass bottle.


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How to patent a product in 6 steps

How to patent a product: woman sketching while looking at her laptop

The patent application process isn’t for the faint of heart. While it’s doable for most business owners, it can take a lot of time and money—usually thousands of dollars—to complete. After you finish your application, which can take a full year, you’ll still need to wait up to two years for approval or rejection. 

If you’re up to the challenge, getting a patent can be the key to a thriving business. Here’s how to patent a product in the United States in six steps.

1. Perform a patent search

To ensure that your product is patentable, you must confirm that no one else has patented your idea in the past. Conduct a patent search using the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database, using different terms related to your product to cover all of your bases. Inventors often spend a few days on this process.

Keep in mind that your idea must be useful, original, non-obvious, and patentable under a utility, design, or plant patent.

Working with a patent law firm can help you avoid potentially overlooking patented inventions that could compete with your idea. Getting legal advice on the patentability of your invention usually costs a few hundred dollars, but it could save you thousands in the long run.

2. Document your invention

The more documentation you have of your product creation process, the better. Anything from photographs and online journals to voice memos with time stamps can help you prove that you came up with your idea. Plus, it can show that you invented your product before anyone else.

3. Choose your ideal patent application

A non-provisional patent application is essential for getting 20 years of protection for your product. However, if you want to get your invention protected as soon as possible for a lower cost, you can first file a provisional application for $65-$260. This can get you a year of protection while you raise funds to cover legal and filing fees for the actual patent process. Provisional patents can be helpful for small startups and entrepreneurs who don’t have an existing business.

4. Complete your patent application

The patent application is best completed on the USPTO website through its e-filing system. Hand-delivering or mailing your application comes with an additional $200 charge for small businesses (or $400 for businesses with 500 or more employees). 

As part of your filing process, you’ll need to prepare a:

You may also need to include documentation like records, product specs, or drawings of your invention to provide patent examiners with further context about your idea. The better you can prove that your product is original and useful, the more likely you’ll get a patent.

Be prepared to pay patent filing fees too. Small businesses usually pay $140 for filing and $360 for examination. Large entities need to pay $1,000 for filing and examination.

5. Prepare to defend your patent

It can be incredibly hard to get a patent approved, and there’s a good chance you’ll receive objections from your patent examiner. Counter these objections with a “response to office actions,” which is a document that offers proof that your invention meets the criteria in question. Patent attorneys can help draft this document.

It’s also possible that your patent will be rejected. If this occurs, you’ll have the chance to file a notice of appeal, which costs $400 for small businesses. This appeal lets you make an argument for your product’s patentability. Otherwise, you can complete the patent application process again.

6. Maintain and enforce your patent

Patenting a product is the toughest part, but there’s still work to be done after you get patent approval. Small businesses usually need to pay the following patent maintenance fees:

  • $800 due 3.5 years after the filing date
  • $1,800 due 7.5 years after the filing date
  • $3,700 due 11.5 years after the filing date

You’ll also need to enforce your patent to maintain your rights. When a person or business uses your patented idea without your permission, you can send them a cease and desist letter to request them to stop.

If the letter doesn’t work, you can start a patent infringement lawsuit. Be forewarned that such a lawsuit can be a years-long process that costs $2.3–4 million, but it can be worth the cost. 

Though patent litigation cases can be hard to win, the overwhelming majority of cases are settled out of court without going through the entire process. Patent holders usually receive an average of $6 million in damages

Pros and cons of getting a patent

Man analyzing product drawings

The legal protection of a patent can be a great way to secure your company’s success. However, it also comes with limitations and requires you to complete a tough application process.


Patents can help you maximize your profits. They can also help you get the funding you need to expand your business and take it to the next level. Here are a few advantages to consider.

Own your market

Perhaps the biggest incentive to patent a product is the opportunity to own your market. Patents essentially give you a legal monopoly over your segment of your industry, which can help you build a massive customer base 20 years before other businesses get a chance to compete. You can price your product exactly how you want without worrying about staying competitive.

You can also license your patent, which allows you to profit greatly from businesses that are interested in using your idea.

Increase your product’s marketability

When you get a patent, you can legally claim that your company is the only one that sells a product like yours. Even simply filing a patent can make you stand out, as you can market your product with a “patent pending” label.

Attract investors

Patents are incredibly valuable assets in the eyes of investors and lenders. Having a patent can boost your chances of getting funding for your business.


Getting a patent is no easy task. Before you go through the process, be aware of these downsides.


Filing a utility patent as a small business will usually cost $500. If you qualify as a micro-entity, subject to certain income restrictions, you may get significant discounts on filing and examination fees. However, you’ll still pay thousands in maintenance fees.

Many small business owners opt to hire a patent attorney to assist them in the complicated application process, which can add $8,000–15,000 or more in legal costs. Working with a patent lawyer can help you avoid wasting cash and energy by ensuring that your application is right the first time around.


The patent process can take up to three years, sometimes more, to complete. This makes patenting a poor choice for fast-paced industries. For instance, smartphones can become outdated after just one year, making their features difficult to patent.

Can’t be renewed

Patents are typically issued for a fixed period of 20 years. After that time is up, your patent protection expires. You can’t extend your exclusive rights beyond the set time frame.

Exclusive to the U.S.

Getting a patent through the USPTO only gives you exclusive rights to your invention in the United States. If you want your rights to extend to other countries, you’ll need to file a separate application through the Office of International Patent Cooperation. However, this comes with additional costs—at least $3,000 for the application alone.

Protect your million-dollar idea

When you have an idea that’s worth protecting, patenting your product can secure exclusive rights to your invention. It’s a tough journey to file a patent—one that’s filled with expense and more than a year of working and waiting. But it can turn your business into a highly profitable leader in your industry. 

On top of patenting your ideas, you can also trademark your business name to further protect your interests and build consumer trust. Our guide will help you through the trademark process from initial research to securing trademark rights.

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.