How to Patent Your Great Idea

To establish exclusive rights to your innovative solution, follow these patent process basics. By Stephen Nation

System builders and service providers love cobbling together unique solutions. That's our thing. Sometimes, we're even lucky enough to stumble upon something totally original - and that's when the real fun begins.

When my company found itself in possession of a unique solution, we sought a patent. The patent process is arduous (and somewhat expensive), but well worth it in the end. Here's how we got started and what you can expect in the event that you stumble upon an original solution.

MOTHER OF INVENTION

In 2005, I was approached by a large financial company to help address a data security problem. This financial client required that data be authenticated and protected beyond the network level. The company needed a way to encrypt, certify, track, and control digital information both as it traveled and when it was stored.

When we started working on the client's request, we definitely aspired to come up with an innovative solution. It was uncharted territory, yet we knew we could create something special. And we did. My team conceived of BIOWRAP, and the patent process began.

The first step in the process is determining whether your original solution is, in fact, original. Patent information is public, so we did our own research. Each person on my team used his or her specific methods of research to get a feel for whether BIOWRAP was a patent-worthy product.

Next, decide whether you're willing to open up your innovation to scrutiny, since during the patent process you will be required to provide specifics about the technology and how it operates. Once we made the decision to move forward, we sought top-notch intellectual property (IP) legal counsel. This expert walked the team through about 100 man-hours of work. While it wasn't cheap, I'm convinced it was money well spent.

SUBMISSION AND RECOGNITION

The patent submission requires a technical description of the product, complete with supporting diagrams and schematics. If you're building something, keep appropriate documentation. We did this as we built BIOWRAP, so it was fairly simple for us to pull together our submission.

We drafted all the documentation ourselves, even though there were a number of programs we could have used to create the necessary drawings (Visio, AutoCAD, and so on). The information just needed to be clear and understandable. Along with our product description and diagrams, we submitted the required forms and letters - again, our counsel was a critical leader in this process. Once it was compiled and mailed off, we waited.

After a few months, we got word from our IP counsel that our patent had been rejected. But not every point was rejected, he told us; there were just one or two minor points that needed clarification. With the help of our trusted counsel, we put together a formal rebuttal. Six months to a year after its submission, we heard back. Our patent had been approved.

Within six months of gaining our BIOWRAP patent, we recognized the benefits of our perceived expertise: Patents carry weight with investors.

If you harbor dreams of creating a patent-worthy innovation, go for it. Establish your proof of concept in the field. Be sure you have work in the pipeline to sustain your operation while your time is spent elsewhere. Hire great IP legal counsel. Then anything's possible.

Stephen NationSTEPHEN NATION is founder of Nation Technologies Group Inc., an IT solution provider in Lake Mary, Fla.