Introduction to Hardware Patents for Startups

In the development of hardware, patents play a crucial role in protecting the innovative ideas and designs of new businesses. Hardware patents specifically safeguard the novel and functional aspects of physical inventions, ensuring that competitors cannot replicate or profit from them without permission. These patents not only provide legal protection but also encourage investment in research and development, fostering a climate of innovation and growth in the industry.

The subject of patents will come up regardless of the stage of planning or development your (soon-to-be) hardware product is in. In short, a patent is a type of intellectual property that, in exchange for publishing an enabling public disclosure of the innovation, grants its owner the legal right to prohibit others from creating, using, selling, or importing the invention for a set number of years.

Most likely, the scope and plan of your project's intellectual property will include some mention of patents. Trademarks and copyright are two slightly distinct tools that can be used to protect brands and intellectual property. Consider registering a trademark, which is easily identifiable by the diminutive TM symbol, to protect your well-known brand name from misuse by copycats. Check out our article here for specific best practices for securing your intellectual property.

Not every hardware patent is created equal.

An "international patent" cannot provide worldwide protection for an invention. Every nation where the patent owner wants protection requires the filing of a distinct patent. Therefore, we'll use the US as an example for the sake of this article. We suggest going here for more information if you and your project are considering markets outside of the US. It is important to note that the process and requirements for obtaining a patent may vary from country to country. It is advisable to consult with a patent expert like Einfolge, who specializes in international intellectual property laws, to ensure comprehensive protection for your invention in different markets.

Anybody who "invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent," subject to the terms and requirements of the law, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Plant, utility, and design patents are the three categories of patents, each of which fulfills a distinct purpose. Plant patents are granted for new and distinct varieties of plants that have been asexually reproduced. Utility patents, on the other hand, cover new and useful processes, machines, or compositions of matter. Design patents protect the ornamental design of an article of manufacture. It is important to understand the specific category that your invention falls under in order to properly apply for a patent.

Design patents and utility patents are the two categories of patents that cover hardware design.

Design patents safeguard the unique elements of your surface design, which are relevant to a product's ornamental worth. This kind of patent has a 14-year expiration date.

• Most product designers are interested in utility patents, which safeguard the essential components of your innovation, such as the precise dimensions of your hardware, the operation of your machine, and its individual pieces. The application process alone for this kind of patent can take up to a year. A utility patent has a 20-year duration, during which there may be additional maintenance costs.

You will need to provide specifics about your invention when you petition for any kind of patent. It follows that the intricacy of your idea will determine how long the application takes. People frequently ask why patents cost so much, but it makes sense when you think about how hard it is to maintain an up-to-date, searchable record of original ideas that various individuals and businesses have applied for and claimed as their own throughout the course of the last three or four generations.

Provisional Patents: A sustainable Option

Many startups consider utility and design patents but give up because they are too expensive. This makes sense because the early prototypes of many creators were created for less money than the potential expense of obtaining a utility patent. With a provisional patent, you can have your cake and eat it too. For many hardware firms, filing a provisional patent application is a useful "first step." A provisional patent application gives you the ability to set an early effective filing date for a nonprovisional patent application that you later file (such as a utility or design patent). It also permits the phrase "patent pending" to be used in relation to the invention's description. Provisional patents last one year and are renewed.

Consulting with a patent expert early on can help ensure that your invention meets the necessary criteria for patentability and increases the chances of a successful application. Einfolge can provide guidance on drafting a strong provisional patent application and assist in navigating the complex patent process, ultimately protecting your intellectual property rights.

If filing for a patent early in the development cycle is part of your IP protection strategy, it is probably preferable because patent laws are stringent and have a hard deadline.

When to File a Patent in Relation to Hardware Development

Most entrepreneurs begin the process of bringing their new concept to market by initially concentrating on a prototype. This prototype serves as a proof of concept and allows for testing and refinement before seeking patent protection. However, it is important to note that filing for a patent early in the development cycle can provide additional benefits, such as establishing an earlier priority date and deterring potential competitors from entering the market.

You must include any modifications that occur after you file the patent application in the application as well. This is important because any discrepancies between the initial drawing or prototype and the final product could potentially invalidate the patent. It is recommended to regularly update and document any changes made during the development process to ensure that the patent application accurately reflects the final product. Additionally, keeping track of modifications will also help in demonstrating the progress and innovation involved in your product, which can strengthen your patent application.

Keeping all of that in mind, we advise obtaining the provisional first, even before you and your team have finalized a patent strategy and discussed it with each other. You can then continue designing the hardware, sourcing, and process after that is filed. When your project is ready to go public and implement your sales plan, it can be a good idea to extend the provisional patent for one additional year to gauge sales before applying for a utility or design patent.

Einfolge can help you with the entire patent process, from conducting a thorough prior art search to drafting and filing your patent application. Our team of experienced professionals can assist you in maximizing the strength and value of your patent, ensuring that it provides adequate protection for your innovative product. Additionally, we can also help you navigate any potential challenges or objections that may arise during the examination process, increasing your chances of obtaining a granted patent.