Q: I have an idea to modify a patent. Should I contact the inventor/assignee?
I'm wondering if a working prototype is required to patent my idea or if I can just provide a description and drawings.
There are two important relevant pieces of law here. First, you are able to patent an improvement on an existing patent. There is no need to ask permission of the underlying patent-holder to file for that patent. Second, a patent merely grants the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, or importing the patented invention. It does not necessarily grant the owner of a patent those rights, it only grants the ability to exclude others.
Therefore, you can patent an improvement on another person's patent. However, if it is only an improvement, then you would need the underlying patent owner's permission to practice your invention. At this point, you would need to contact the owner or their representation to get permission through a license.
It would not be a good idea to discuss the idea with the owner before securing rights through at least an NDA, but a provisional patent application would be better still. If you share the invention with the owner before securing some sort of protection, you would risk losing rights over the invention.
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