How to strengthen your patent

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Why do we care about patents? If you create something – whether it’s a medical device, a new type of shoelace, or a better method of washing clothes – you have the chance to protect your idea and earn money off it. A patent is a publicly available, government-issued document that gives certain rights to an invention, such as preventing others from making, using, or selling your invention. Patents provide crucial protection to intellectual property, the intangible creations of the human intellect.

When you apply for a patent, it’s processed within the administrative and legal framework of the patent office. In the US, that’s the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). A patent application can be a complicated and expensive process, so making your patent stronger is crucial for the successful granting of a patent.

Know your requirements to obtain a patent

There are four essential requirements to obtain a patent:

  • Usefulness: Your invention must be functional, substantial, and offer real-world application.
  • Novelty: Your invention should be new and not known or used by others.
  • Non-obviousness: Your invention should be a significant step forward from previous work, not just a simple tweak or expected use.
  • Enablement: Your invention must be easy to use or reproduce by people in the field once your patent expires.

5 ways to write a strong patent

Even if you meet all four requirements to obtain a patent, there’s no guarantee you’ll be granted one. Patent law is constantly changing. Give yourself the best shot at earning a patent by using these five ways to write a valuable patent.

  1. Use fitting claims: As the heart of patent applications, claims define the scope of legal protection for the invention. Usually, you need to describe the novelty, non-obviousness, and utility of your invention in this section. When writing claims, keep in mind that others might want to replicate or improve upon your design. So, it’s crucial not to write your claims too specifically, as people can easily make minor edits to your design and apply for their own patents. However, you don’t want the claims to be overly broad, as the USPTO might reject your idea of being not novel. Be like Goldilocks, and make sure your claims are just right.
  2. Research prior art: Prior art is evidence that your invention is not new, that someone has done it before. You can look for prior art using Google Patents and the USPTO’s database. It’s also recommended to use a third party – like your university’s technology transfer office – to help you search further. Prior art can be your enemy, but it also can be your savior: On one hand, it can feel crushing to find that your “unique” idea has already been thought of. But on the other hand, you can use prior art to help you define your invention’s position in the market and find the gap that your product can overcome, thus bolstering your claims.
  3. Make sure it works: While novelty is a crucial part of patent considerations, usefulness is considered more important. Patent GraphicCourts are more willing to enforce patents for a functional invention than a prototype of the invention. One strategy to emphasize the importance of usefulness is to include detailed descriptions of the invention’s practical applications and give contexts of your invention. This might come from market research or scientific journals.
  4. Think about alternatives: It’s always wise to come up with as many variations of your inventions as you can. Make sure the patent covers all potential applications for your invention and the different ways your inventions can be used or made. Think big. The goal is to make it hard for others to work around you and come up with their alternatives.
  5. Attack your own patent: When drafting your patent application, think from both the perspectives of USPTO reviewers and your competitors. You want to get prepared for potential questions from the USPTO by considering the essential requirements for patentability. Also, consider all the details and variations of your product as if you were a competitor trying to circumvent your patent.

Think you’re ready to submit your application? Double-check the USPTO website for a step-by-step overview of patent applications. And if you’re an Emory University inventor, the Emory Patent Group of the Office of Technology Transfer is here to help. Get in touch with our patent team at ottip [at] emory [dot] edu.

– Samme Xie