Blacksburg, VA asked in Copyright, Intellectual Property and Patents (Intellectual Property) for Virginia

Q: If I just created a new invention or concept what's the best way I can protect if I have no money

2 Lawyer Answers
Peter D. Mlynek
Peter D. Mlynek
  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • Moorestown, NJ

A: You've asked about an invention, which is covered by patents, but you posted your question under copyrights. Let me answer your question both ways.


If you are trying to protect something that is copyrightable, then the protection does not cost you anything. If you write an article, or a book, or a movie script, or shoot a movie, and like, then it is copyrighted when you fix in a tangible medium. It used to be that you had to submit it to the Copyright Office, but now that is not needed to get a copyright. Read the story about J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series: she too was broke when she started writing the Harry Potter books, and now she is one of the richest people in the UK.


If you are trying to patent something, then it is not so easy to get a patent for free. You will need to pay for the various fees with the Patent Office. And you will also need to pay a patent attorney or a patent agent for his/her time and expertise to write a patent for you (you certainly can write the patent application yourself, but it is rare for a person who is not a patent attorney or a patent agent to do it by himself/herself). The costs of getting a patent are going to be in a range of $10,000 to $30,000.

Luckily though, under the US laws, you can file a patent application up to a year after you have disclosed your invention. So if you make a new product, and you put it on sale, write about it in trade publications, advertise it, etc., and your product becomes a success so that within a few months it earns you lots of money, then you will be able to afford the cost of getting the patent.

Good luck!

Kevin E. Flynn
Kevin E. Flynn
  • Patents Lawyer
  • Pittsboro, NC

A: For a short period of time, you can keep your idea a secret. This may not work forever as others may eventually come to the same solution for the same problem.

There is a pro bono program for inventors run at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. I have not used this program but can get you started with a link to their web page.

Ideally you find an attorney that can work with you to guide you through the process as the process is not totally logical and a bright person would not guess that it works the way it does.

Here are some resources to help bring you up to speed so that you can be well prepared before your first meeting with the pro bono attorney. The attorney can help you prepare and file a provisional patent application perhaps at the micro entity pay scale (75% off the filing fee). This will give you some time to seek out investors. The provisional application will need to be replaced with a non-provisional application with all the formalities and the important patent claims within a year.

Protecting Your Competitive Advantages--

Patent Searching for Entrepreneurs--

Provisional Patent Applications--

Keep in mind that any sale of your invention outside of an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) immediately ends your option to obtain a patent in the US. Same with a public use (such as at a trade show). There are nuances on whether a partial demonstration at a trade show is a full public use but let's not get you into a deep mud pit of legal expenses. No public sales, no public uses. Avoid public disclosures. Although you have a year to file in the US, you have just made your life much more complicated as folks can file improvement patents on your idea and you may not be able to stop them. Plus the public disclosure in the US has forfeited opportunities to seek patent protection in many countries outside the US.

Good Luck.

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