Every year, millions of Americans devise new ways of improving things or processes. Although these ideas have the potential for being extremely valuable, potential only goes so far when it comes to intellectual property protection.

In short, you cannot patent an idea. Ideas are abstract, and in order to patent something – a process, machine, manufactured article and so on – you must have evidence of a concrete, tangible invention.

The Value of Good Ideas

In order to make something patentable, you must move beyond the ideation stage: conception and implementation. Ideas are a dime a dozen and unfortunately, there’s much miscommunication regarding ideas and patents.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USTPO) clearly states what cannot be patented:

  • Abstract ideas
  • Natural and physical phenomena
  • Artistic works
  • Offensive or non-useful ideas

What can potential inventors do to receive patent protection for their idea? Simple: invent.

The process of conception and implementation of an idea is the barrier to patent eligibility and protection. If you can take your idea and create a physical manifestation of it, you’re now in the realm of actual idea protection.

Fortunately, having an idea may be further along the path to intellectual property protection than you think. The USPTO doesn’t require physical samples or prototypes of your invention, just the proper illustration and documentation to fully describe it.

So while an abstract idea won’t get you anywhere, putting that idea into real, physical descriptions can put you on the path toward a patent. Working with an illustrator or patent drafting artist can provide you with the documentation you need to prove that your idea is more than abstract.

If You Can’t Get Beyond the Idea

In some cases, you simply won’t have the means and resources to take your idea to conception. If you’re still serious about promoting the idea, you can use non-disclosure agreements or confidentiality agreements to offer some level of security against others using your idea.

It’s important to note, however, that these types of agreements are part of contract law, which is different than intellectual property law, and breaches of contract operate differently than patent infringements do.

Securing Patent Protection

If you’re ready to pursue a patent, you can file for a non-provisional patent, or you may file a provisional patent application, which offers a year of “patent pending” protection. The former may be a more affordable up-front solution, but if you wish to pursue your invention after one year, you’ll have to file for a regular patent, which can increase your overall expenses.

Ultimately, the value of ideas lie in their potential, not necessarily the idea itself. Ideas without execution aren’t eligible for intellectual property protection, and in most cases, inventors are advised to follow through with their idea if they want to eventually receive patent protection.

To learn more about  patenting your invention, or to discuss your options as an inventor, call the intellectual property team at JacksonWhite Law. Our knowledgeable staff can help you explore your invention’s potential and protect your intellectual assets.


Call JacksonWhite at (480) 464-1111 to discuss your Intellectual Property case today.

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