My Friend Mailed his Idea to Himself & Never Opened It,
Is This as Good as a Patent?
No, all that the envelope does is show that he had his idea on the date of the postmark. It gives him absolutely no ownership of that idea for his invention. You do not "own" ideas. In most jurisdictions, ideas are not considered to be property. In order to actually own your invention, you must obtain a patent. A patent will convert your idea into property that you can own, sell, and even leave to heirs. A patent describes the exact form of your invention and protects the novel claims of your invention, that is, what you feel is the unique aspect of your invention. Others may still be able to obtain patents on variations of your invention, provided that they can prove to the Patent Office that these variations are not obvious, are useful and are new.
Often we hear from people, "then why bother getting a patent?" The answer depends on the individual. Before embarking on the patent application process, a person needs to identify his long-term goal. If that goal is to have absolute control over the manufacture and distribution of the invention, that is, if that person seeks a monopoly over the invention, then, (unless the invention can be maintained as a trade secret) a patent is the only way to accomplish this. A patent grants the patentee the exclusive right to make, use and sell the invention for a limited period of time. After the patent expires, the invention becomes part of the public domain and anyone can make and sell your claimed form of the invention. An inventor must also pay maintenance fees on certain types of patents in order to keep the patent enforceable during the patent term. If a person just wants to make and sell their invention and does not care whether others do the same, he probably would not want to incur the expense of obtaining a patent. However, that person must be certain that he is not infringing on another individual's patent. We strongly recommend that inventors perform a "right to use search" before making and selling an invention (if they are not first seeking patent protection) to be certain that they are not risking exposing themselves to a patent infringement lawsuit. A "right to use" search can be conducted through our office. The price of these searches starts at $1,700. An inventor who chooses this non-exclusive license option may also file certain documents with the patent office that would preclude others from obtaining a patent on the exact form of their disclosed invention.
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These pages are for informational purposes only and are not intended, and should not be construed as, legal advice.