Should I Patent My Product?

What is a Product Patent?

As an industrial designer, this question makes a frequent appearance in discussions  with clients and fellow product designers. Why do people need them? Is everyone out there to steal your ideas? How careful do you need to be with your intellectual property? Its easy to get stirred up into a frenzy of paranoia when it comes to potentially having your ideas copied. It could drive someone crazy knowing that someone else is making a profit from the concept they worked so hard to develop. So how can you protect yourself?

What is a Product Patent by definition

A Patent is an entitlement awarded by the government to inventors for a fixed number of years, to prohibit others from making, marketing, importing or selling a patented product or method of production. So it also protects manufacturers connected to the said patent holder. Patenting a product means you reserve the exclusive rights as an original inventor of a specific product. In basic terms, no other company or manufacturer can produce or distribute the same product. This applies to products produced using the same fabrication method or any other method that achieves the same outcome. This helps prevent direct competition between producers and upholds a level of protection for the inventor as the sole patent holder of the design or product.

The Tale of the Inventor

So you’re inventing a revolutionary toilet brush, you’ve spent 3 months cooped up in your basement skipping meals, rarely showering. The neighbours can hear you yell out loud as another prototype fails and you scratch the wall sobbing over a tropically themed picture frame with one of those generic smiling families under the cheap acrylic cover.  A certain hot glue gun receives blows from the table top, over and over again, assisted by your clenched, white knuckled grip of course. It was cooling down but you left it too close to the table’s edge. Brushing past it you seared the inside of your forearm, quickly throwing you into a white rage worthy of a warlord. Mental stability could be a valid concern at this point, but you scrape together what’s left of your dwindling psyche and pull off that state of the art toilet brush.

The paranoia sets in. You catch glimpses of a less than savoury expression from an 80 year old Salvation Army volunteer off a shop window reflection, no time to think, you rush home in a panic. She’s obviously been planted there you tell yourself. They’re watching you, the phones are tapped. Returning home from dinner you hear footsteps echo behind, only 50 meters from your building. Turning to confront the assailant you meet the eyes of a 14 year old girl returning home from a piano lesson. “PFFFTT”, you hiss through tightly pursed lips, expressing your contempt for her seemingly sound alibi, “I don’t buy it!” you yell.  You stick to populated spaces and make escape routes as you enter rooms, just like Jason Bourne. Its just not safe, you’re sick of always looking over your shoulder, you need a product patent. BUT WAIT! Hold your horses, does your product really need a patent?

Does my Product Need a Patent?

From the perspective of a consumer product designer, there’s a few points that I want to discuss in relation to this question:

Patents aren’t necessary to sell a product:

The first point id like make is that you don’t need a patent to sell something and this may not be as obvious as some may think. After all, with the trend of start-ups and high tech, the words product and patent in the industrial design industry, get thrown around like hot potatoes. If you have a product which aren’t technology based, maybe going to market quickly and continuously evolving the product is a better option. Don’t compromise on quality of design and function and you could stay one step ahead of the “copycats”, whose replica products just don’t meet the mark.

Is it worth it?

Its very important to study the market. Do you really have a new toilet brush? Have you revolutionised the way we clean our toilets? Or does it just use better materials and have a more ergonomic design? Any product designer will tell you that these definitely aren’t bad things, it may be a successful product, I mean lets face it, not too much thought goes in to your everyday toilet brush. But you need to consider if paying the expensive fees of a patent lawyer to do a product patent search is worth it.

Are you Scared?

Is patenting your product motivated by fear like the fictional character I painted a graphic picture of earlier? Are you scared of someone stealing your Design? That might be a legitimate concern, but before you run to empty your wallet on legal fees its probably better to work with an industrial designer first. Develop a prototype and test your product in the market. This will help you determine if it is truly unique and can develop the level of interest necessary for an investment like mass manufacturing, distribution, marketing and the  employment of a Patent attorney.

There Will Always be Copycats!

In reality, depending on the specific role of your product, its very hard to stop copycat products from entering the market. Even the biggest companies in the world find it hard to stop similar products from being sold. If ever you are in the position to pursue someone legally for copying a process or a product you have patented, the legal proceedings could take years. which is something to consider.