Is it possible to patent your new idea? While the US government encourages innovation, imagination, and invention, they need something more concrete than just an idea if they’re going to grant a patent application. Something as vague as a spoken or dreamed up concept isn’t going to cut it.

Just the same, though, sometimes there is extraordinarily little ground to cover between dreaming up an idea and creating an early prototype. Remember in school when the teacher asked you to “show your work”? In a way, the United States Patent and Trademark Office works very similarly and asks that you show how you refined your idea, will manufacture it, and put it into use.

What is the Difference Between a Copyright, a Trademark, and a Patent?

Copyrights lawfully protect and grant ownership of creative works, literature, film, and artistic expression. Trademarks protect names, brands, logos, and sometimes short slogans. Patents grant legal protection to inventions, services, compositions of matter (like pharmaceutical drugs), and processes to create such compositions.

None of these legal tools can protect an idea.

What Makes a Product Eligible for a Patent?

Different patents face distinct types of requirements in order to be accepted. However, a few key criteria are central to most all patent applications.

  • A new idea. A “novel” idea. If the product is something that hasn’t come along before, then it has a better chance of earning a patent.
  • A complete rundown of the design and how it is manufactured and used. Details on the refinements made over time lend a lot to the credibility of your product. Specific examples of its use are also vital.
  • Demonstration of design or functionality of the product, either conceptually or by use of a prototype.
  • Create a product of such uniqueness that even those in the invention’s field may marvel at its creation and usefulness.

Just as every invention will strive to be different from the others, one may expect that every application for a patent may be similarly unique. An attorney experienced with patent law may be able to help you throughout the process.

When is an Idea More Than Just an Idea?

You can’t simply patent an idea. But if you work on your idea a little longer, refine it, shape it, and turn it into something more real, then you might have something. Take your vague idea – profound and unique as it may be – and turn it into something tangible.

Someone working at the patent office may love your idea just as much as you do, but that passion is not enough to make it official. They need to see the idea represented somewhere beyond just your fanciful words and your big dreams for its success. If you can elaborate on the concept, and draw up examples of how it would be manufactured, used, and put to market, you’ll have more to pitch at the USPTO. If possible, consider crafting a prototype.

As with all matters with the law, it is advisable to speak with a lawyer who has worked in practice areas relevant to your legal needs.