Patents for Dummies - Just the Basics

In today’s hyper-competitive technology landscape, a basic knowledge of patents is essential for any engineer who suspects that their current passion project could be the next big thing. Whether you're applying on behalf of your organisation or seeking a grant for a home-made invention, a refresher on the basics of patent law is worthwhile for beginners and experts alike.


To get you started, here are five key considerations every engineer should look at before they apply for their first patent:


Legal Protection

The main purpose of a patent is to legally protect inventions and make it easier for engineers to sell their products. Filing for a patent enables an engineer to protect his or her market share and prohibit competitors from creating a similar product that could infringe on the invention. It is among the best form of protection you as an engineer can ensure for your concepts, designs and even ideas.  However, they may not protect you from every eventuality. Before applying for a patent, think about the kind of legal protection you're likely to require as you develop and market your product. Will a standard patent cover all bases, or are you likely to require additional protection as well? Speaking to a legal expert can help you to clarify your requirements and identify any additional areas you may need to explore.


Patent vs. Trade Secret

In addition to filing for a patent, engineers have the option to keep an invention a trade secret. When deciding which option to choose, it is important for you to determine how easily the product can be duplicated. If the invention can easily be reverse engineered, then a patent would be the safest choice. If it’s highly unlikely that it could be reinvented, then you should consider trade secret protection.  Generally, products are protected by patents while methods or practices are protected as trade secrets.


Choosing a Patent Attorney

Engineers should always enlist the help of a patent attorney or agent when writing a patent application. Without their assistance, patent applications submitted by engineers are often rejected because they lack sufficient product descriptions. When selecting the proper patent attorney, it is important to make the attorney’s background a priority in the decision process. An attorney with experience in the same field as the invention is best suited to assist in writing that application.


Marking Your Product

Once the engineer and attorney have filed the patent application, the term “Patent Pending” should be added to all products to alert competitors of the anticipated license. After the application has been validated, products should be marked with the proper patent numbers. This marking enforces the patent and warns competitors of possible infringement.



It is important for patent owners to react cautiously to a possible infringement. Instead of contacting the infringer directly, hire a patent enforcement company. If the infringer is contacted directly, the patent owner gives them the opportunity to file a “declaratory judgement action” and act as the plaintiff if the case results in a trial. However, with a patent enforcement team on their side, engineers put themselves at an advantage from both an experience and legal standpoint.


The common misconceptions and mistakes surrounding patent applications and patent law can be avoided by learning some of the basics of patent knowledge. With these facts in mind, engineers can increase the likelihood of validating their patents and avoiding infringement in the future.