How and where do you get a patent to protect your invention?

Do you think you’ve built a better mousetrap that will put you on easy street? Before you quit your job, obtain a patent, the best legal protection for an inventor.

A patent is the right, given by the federal government, to make, use, and sell an invention. If your invention is a machine, process, or item used in manufacturing, your patent is good for 17 years. If it’s an ornamental design for furniture, jewelry, or the like, you’re entitled to exclusive rights for up to 14 years. Once you have a patent, anyone who wants to use your invention must get your permission and pay you a fee, otherwise, you can sue in court and win damages (money) for puny losses you suffer.

To qualify for a patent, your invention must be original and useful. If you’ve merely improved on an existing item or a known principle in an obvious way, you’ve no right to a patent.

Although you can apply for a patent without a lawyer’s help, an experienced patent attorney will help it go more smoothly. Before applying for a patent, you or your attorney must review information compiled by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Washington, DC 20231, to learn if any similar or identical invention has already been patented. If none exists, quickly file your application. If your brainstorm is already patented or was discussed in an American or foreign publication within a certain time period, it’s ineligible.

Your application must include a detailed account of what your invention does and how it works and the specifications. It must also explain how it was built. You may have to submit drawings or models. You must sign an oath that you are the original creator and submit the designated fee, payable by check or money order, to the Commissioner of Patents at the address mentioned.