You have created an innovative, new way of doing business and now you're worried that others might be able to turn a profit on your hard work and ingenuity.
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You could cross your fingers and hope for the best . . . Or you could take steps to protect your idea. Believe it or not, it you may even be able to obtain a patent for your idea.
Patents have traditionally been associated with the world of science – mechanical gadgets, technological processes, and other things that make engineers drool. Yet patents for business ideas have existed as long as patents themselves. The first recorded financial patent was granted in 1799 for a method of detecting counterfeit money. Other early business patents included blank checks, coin counting, interest calculation tables, and lotteries. The patenting of business methods was subsequently put on hiatus until the 1980s when computer-related technologies re-opened the door for these types of patents.
Although the popularity of patenting business ideas is relatively new, many entrepreneurially-minded individuals have found it to be a common sense solution in defending their exclusive rights to new business methods. The patenting of business methods and ideas remains controversial in some circles, but in can be done. Here's what you need to know.
Business ideas are patentable under the classification of a business method patent. Ideas for new businesses don't typically qualify for a business method patent. Instead, patentability is limited to new ways or methods of doing business. For example, new types of e-commerce, insurance, or banking may qualify for a patent while an idea for a cowboy-themed pizzeria may not.
The technical patent office classification for business method patents is Class 705, which includes sub-categories in health care, insurance, electronic shopping, inventory management, accounting, and finance.
Under U.S. patent law, business method patents are judged according to the same criteria as other types of patents. Patent applicants must prove that the method is truly innovative and has a constructive application.
Much of the current controversy around business method patents has arisen because individuals have attempted to patent highly vague and suspect ideas for the sole purpose of initiating lawsuits. With that in mind, it's important to make sure you are patenting your business concept for the right reason. Patents are designed to give you legal protection rather than a weapon for proactive litigation.
Since the patent office has every intention of reviewing your patent application according to the same standards as every other patent application, you should also plan on recruiting the assistance of patent professionals (attorneys and/or consultants) to help guide you through the application process.
Now here's the bad news: Business method patents have become so popular that the U.S. patent office is currently experiencing a major backlog of applications. If you filed your application today, it will probably be years (possibly as long as a decade) before you receive a response from the good folks at the patent office.