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Provisional patents worth the time/money?
5 points by sharemywin 1836 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 3 comments
I filed a provisional patent for a drive up coffee vending machine that extends the order screen out past your car mirror after you drive up. It cost me a $1000 with drawings and descriptions. Was I wasting my time? Should I have spent time/money of other things?

Patents are a crap shoot. I don't think you will get much scope on this invention, which is closer to 'design patent' than utility patent. Without scope you won't be able to tag someone as infringing; in theory. Of course you can play the troll and cause people trouble even when your patent is crap, i.e. you did not move the state of the art.

If you really do improve the lot of humanity with a new idea that solves a problem, you deserve a patent.

If you are doing something which is an obvious solution to a person of the art, you are wasting everyones time and energy.

I think if it was obvious it would already be on the market. To me reaching out of your car because you drove to far away from the ATM is a problem. It makes it inconvient for people to use drive up solutions. If the peices are extended out problem solved. Is it obvious? Again Drive up ATMs have been around for a decade not one does it this way. After I point it out sure it seems obvious, but almost all patents are that way.

As with all things, it depends.

If your $1000 included a pretty competent set of drawings, claims, and background, then it was not wasted money.

If your $1000 included something quick and dirty and just a piece of paper with things written on it you're not especially proud of, you could have spent it more wisely.

In either case, if you're serious, you've got a lot more money to spend.

The first thing to remember is a patent is essentially a declaration of war- it's expensive, and you are committing to throw ever-increasing resource after resource, for years, at protecting your idea, so that you can gain income from protecting that idea.

It's definitely not a fire-and-forget approach.

That said, provisional patents are the "clip-on tie" of the IP industry. They offer very limited protection, and they add significant downsides to the health of the patent over its lifetime. You have approximately one year to get a real utility patent application together, which has be for the exact same invention, in order for it to be any help.

Investors judge a provisional patent much as they'd judge a clip-on tie; some may applaud your keen sense of corner-cutting when resources are limited, and some would laugh quietly to themselves and pass on the opportunity of getting to know you.

To put it in perspective, I filed a real utility patent with 20 claims and a very complicated invention for about half $1000. Getting the first stage of international protection brought it to about $1000. Over the next 20 years, if I keep wanting to protect it, it will cost tens of thousands of dollars on the US side and hundreds of thousands of dollars on the international side (the longer you hold a patent, the more the governments charge you to do so). Abandoning or renewing gets to be a real easy decision when the renewal fees hit five figures.

If you really believe in your project, spend the next month getting it up to utility patent submission without waiting the supposed year the provisional can add to your product's period of protection. That will get you past the first lock with sophisticated investors. Hiring a real patent attorney when you've got the paperwork all ready to submit (not when you're trying to figure out what to do) will be both smart and significantly less expensive.

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