Have you invented something so cool, useful and original that the rest of the world just shouldn't be forced to live without it any longer? Unless you want to make others rich on the avails of your ingenuity, you're probably going to want to patent that.
(Note: if it's a business name you're talking about, you're actually after a trademark. You can't patent a book, a play or a song, either -- that's copyright).
How to Patent an Invention
For the uninitiated: a patent is a type of monopoly the government grants inventors for a set period of time, giving the inventor the exclusive right to manufacture, sell, use or otherwise benefit from. Basically, it ensures that no one else can steal your unique design/idea.
Well, unless you're a patent troll. In that case, you make a career of buying patents and threatening inventors and companies with lawsuits. That's a whole article unto itself, so I'll just let John Oliver explain patent trolls in the way only he can (with clips from Shark Tank):
Even if you work with a patent attorney, this is your baby, and you should get as familiar with the process as possible.
How to File a Patent in X Steps
1. Search the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Before you invest another dollar or minute of your time, use this search engine to make sure your idea hasn't already been patented. Make sure your idea is something you can patent using this resource from the USPTO.
2. Find a patent attorney. The application process can be made much simpler with the assistance of an experienced attorney, who can also help you avoid mistakes that could prove costly later on. Stephen Key has a great resource here on what to look for in a patent attorney.
3. Determine what type of patent you need. Do you need a Utility, Design, or Plant patent? This will guide the process you'll use to apply for the patent.
4. File a provisional patent application. This offers a layer of protection in case someone later claims they had the idea before you did. As Issie Lapowsky points out, U.S patent law is a first-to-file system, not first-to-invent. You have to move fast, or you're screwed.
5. Become a Registered eFiler. You can file your patent application by mail or by fax, but the easiest way to do it online through the USPTO website. Get your eFiler registration out of the way and read up on their most recent filing resources to make sure you know what's expected of your application.
6. Gather information for your formal application. You're going to have to prepare a specification, which includes an abstract, background, summary, a detailed description and your conclusion, including the ramifications and scope. In addition, you're going to have to define the legal scope of your patent and again, I'd advise you to use an experienced patent attorney unless you're 100% confident you have the skills and experience to handle this on your own.
7. Complete and review your formal application. It takes one to three years, on average, for a patent application to process. You don't want it rejected for unnecessary errors or simple mistakes, so make sure you get it as close to right as possible the first time.
8. Participate in the patent process. You'll have one patent examiner assigned to your case. If you receive any correspondence or requests from them, respond as soon as you possibly can. Keep in mind that if you have an attorney, the USPTO will communicate directly with them, so you'll need to get your updates there. You can help move things along faster by being proactive in communicating with the patent examiner; consider arranging an interview to address any of their concerns (you can do this by video conference).
If your application is rejected twice, you can file an appeal with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.
Should I File a Patent?
I filed a few patent applications back in 2010 and they're still pending, with a lot of back and forth between myself and the USPTO. We'll probably never sue other companies, so for us, it's more a defensive tool.
Think of it as insurance--you hope you won't ever need it, but it might be a good thing to have.