Navigating the Patent Process for Tech Entrepreneurs

14 Jun 2024

Is your intellectual property protected? It should be — it’s the lifeblood of the tech industry, after all. If you want your startup to succeed, you should figure out how to use patents to safeguard your inventions.

Types of Patents Tech Startups Can Get

As a tech entrepreneur in the United States, you can choose from three patent types.


Utility patents protect machines, systems, and processes. It must be useful — meaning it provides an identifiable benefit and has a clear purpose — instead of being ornamental. Its terms extend to up to 20 years from the date you first file the non-provisional application.


Design patents protect the exterior, ornamental design of your “useful” invention. If you have a new, original look you don’t want others using, file for one of these. It has a term of 15 years from the date you receive the grant.


Provisional patents are temporary placeholders — they’re only good for one year. You file for one when you want to protect your idea but can’t commit to a non-provisional patent yet. It grants you a “patent pending” status.

Why Your Tech Startup Needs a Patent

Think of a patent as a strategic asset in your company’s growth — it protects intellectual property, safeguarding your inventions from your competitors. It prevents them from recreating, emulating, or reproducing your invention without your authorization.

Patents reduce competition, which generates revenue. They also add value to your startup, helping you foster invaluable partnerships with larger businesses. They may even give you opportunities to sell for a huge profit. After all, procurements make up about 50% of a firm’s spending.

The Cost of Patenting Your Tech Invention

Patent applications are expensive. Considering over 40% of small businesses applied for loans in 2020, you might not have enough liquid assets lying around. You should probably reevaluate your budget, especially if you’re paying off debt.

Filing, examination, and publication cost money, as well. For instance, the basic filing fee is $320 for utility patents. Miscellaneous fees also exist for reissuing or filing incorrectly. Once your request is approved, you pay thousands of dollars every few years to keep your patent.

Fortunately, you can get an 80% fee reduction if you qualify for “micro entity status,” meaning you earn under the maximum qualifying gross income limit, have less than 500 employees, and operate in the United States. Good thing you’re an entrepreneur, huh?

Common Patent Process Mistakes to Avoid

Your invention must meet four basic conditions to be accepted — it has to be usable, be unique, have a clear description, and be non-obvious. In other words, you can’t just make a small change to an existing product or develop software that does the job any alternative can do.

Wait, is your invention ready? You’ll want to assess your target market, consumer demand, and production feasibility before committing to the expensive, time-consuming patent process. Consider filing for provisional to safeguard your idea until you’re ready.

You’re probably excited about your invention, but don’t give in to temptation and tell others about it. Being a tech entrepreneur, you probably already know how valuable intellectual property is. However, know that publicizing it before filing makes it non-patentable.

Steps for Securing a Patent as a Tech Entrepreneur

Here’s a simplified version of the patent process — without all the legal jargon.

1. Conduct Patentability and Freedom to Operate Searches

Conduct patentability and freedom to operate searches as early as possible. While the first identifies prior art — existing public inventions — to ensure your invention is unique, the second lets you know whether you’re infringing on someone else’s patent.

2. Draft Your Patent Application

Drafting is a complex process. You must include detailed descriptions with specific terms, elaborate on structures and processes, and craft precise drawings. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, your invention’s description is the most important part of your application.

3. Select the Jurisdiction You Want to File Your Patent In

Filing jurisdiction determines enforceability, potential competition, and fee costs. According to The World Intellectual Property Organization, 85% of patent filers choose China, the U.S., Japan, South Korea or Europe.

4. File the Patent Application With the Relevant Patent Office

Examiners make sure your request meets all pre-defined conditions, rules, and laws. They’ll either ask for clarification, raise objections, or grant your patent. If they reach out, respond as soon as possible to move the process along.

When to Consider Hiring a Patent Attorney

While this information may make the patent process sound simple, it’s anything but. To put its legal intricacies into perspective, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s “consolidated” rules sheet is over 500 pages long.

A patent attorney can help you navigate the legal complexities of drafting and filing. Although hiring them costs money, they can help you save. With their help, your odds of avoiding costly, unnecessary fees increases. Find one in the jurisdiction you plan on filing in.

Don’t Rush the Patent Process

Even with an attorney, the patent process is time-consuming and drawn-out. Don’t worry about making money or cornering the market immediately — consider this time an investment in your startup’s future. Patience and diligence are key.