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The Myth of the Poor Man's Patent (192 hits)

The Myth of the Poor Man’s Patent

Everyday people conceive novel ideas for products and services. However, many of these ideas go undeveloped. Several factors contribute to people not pursuing their ideas. In addition to a lack of confidence and the fear of losing the idea to someone else, one main factor that contributes to a person not pursuing his or her idea is a lack of practical knowledge of what to do. Fueling this lack of knowledge are misconceptions and misinformation. One example of misinformation is the “Poor Man’s Patent.”
The commonly known “Poor Man’s Patent” is a document created by a person in an attempt to protect his or her idea. The practice is for the inventor to prepare a written description of their invention, place it in a self-addressed stamped envelope and mail it. The envelope comes back to the inventor with a postmark date. The inventor then keeps this sealed and postmarked envelope containing that written description as proof that they conceived the idea for the invention. The postmark date serves to identify a point in time for the conception of the idea. Many people believe that this process gives them protection against others that may conceive the same or a similar idea.
The truth is that this sealed and postmarked envelope has very little benefit. The most one can do with this postmarked envelope is show evidence of a conception date for the idea. This conception date alone does not protect the idea. The patent laws do not protect ideas that are intentionally concealed from the public. If an inventor conceives an idea but keeps the idea a secret and does not develop it and a second inventor independently conceives, develops and files a patent application for the same or a similar idea, then the second inventor is legally entitled (has first priority) to pursue protection for that idea. Although someone may be the first to conceive an idea, the first inventor must be diligent in developing the idea in order to claim ownership. The patent laws reward a person that first conceives an idea, diligently develops their idea and then makes the idea known to the public. Part of this diligence is filing a patent application for the idea.
In order to receive patent protection for an idea, an inventor must take some affirmative steps to develop and protect the idea. These steps should include: 1) generating a structural and/or functional design for the idea, 2) if possible, generating a model or prototype of the idea; 3) testing the idea and 4) filing a patent application (provisional or formal patent application) to begin the process of obtaining patent protection for the idea.
Although many people know about the “Poor Man’s Patent”, the best approach to establish an initial date of conception for an idea prior to filing a patent application is to:
1) prepare a written document describing the idea (including structural and/or functional descriptions of the idea and drawings if applicable); 2) sign and date the document in the presence of another person; and 3) have the person that witnessed your signature sign and date the document. A notary can serve as a witness in this process. The inventor then keeps the signed and dated document without concern about an envelope being accidently opened. When trying to establish a date of the conception of the invention, this approach of signing the document in the presence of a witness is similar to the practice in most technology companies.

Darcell Walker has over 20 years of experience practicing law. His specialty area is Intellectual Property law (i.e., patents, trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and product licensing). Attorney Walker is licensed in Texas and registered to practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office. In addition to his law practice, he conducts workshops on various topics related to developing and protecting ideas and inventions. Attorney Walker is also the author of two books in this area.
Visit www.dwalkerlaw.net and www.youtube.com/user/godlyideas.
Posted By: Darcell Walker
Wednesday, August 19th 2009 at 1:01PM
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