According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a patent for a product falls under the “utility patent” category: “any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.”

A product patent can legally protect the use and ownership of a new idea or invention and is typically good for 20 years. Once that time expires, the invention becomes available for public use.

But how to begin the patent process?

Develop and Document Your Product

Not only must you develop your invention, but you must also provide evidence that you were its creator. This can be achieved via thorough documentation and careful collection of records.

You must attempt to establish what your product does, how it works, and how it is made. If you update your design over time, please include these updates in your documentation.

It is also good practice to lay out how you might wish to market and sell your product. Depending on the product, you may also want to develop one or multiple prototypes.

Research Your Idea and Make Certain it Qualifies for Patent Protection

Now you must determine whether your product is even eligible for a patent. Your idea must be new and “novel” in order to qualify for a patent in the United States.

You must also determine how profitable you expect your product to be. Acquiring a patent can be expensive, sometimes in the tens of thousands of dollars, and you need to decide if that venture is worth it to you.

Investigate Other Similar Patents

Begin by searching patent records in the USPTO’s federal database to see if there are other registered products similar to yours. If there are patents with remarkable similarities, it may prove difficult to patent your product.

If there are similar but inferior patents previously registered, you may still be able to file for a patent. However, you may find that the market is more challenging than initially expected.

Hire a Lawyer with Experience in Patent Law

If you haven’t done so already, now would be a good time to enlist the services of a legal professional to help you through the remainder of the patent process. Knowing what type of patent you need and whether you’re ready to file can be difficult for those unfamiliar with filing for patents. Your lawyer and legal team can help you through the process.

File an Application with the USPTO

Once you have your finished product, documentation showing its creation and use, and know what type of patent you are looking to secure, it is then time to apply with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

You may either opt for a Regular Patent Application (RPA) or a Provisional Patent Application (PPA). A PPA is cheaper and easier but will only allow you to file for a “pending” patent. A PPA is often the first step before later filing an RPA. The RPA takes longer but, if the application is successful, will result in a lawfully protected US product patent.