Although the patent examiner will perform an extensive patent search when you file your patent with the USPTO, I would suggest performing a patent search to see if a patent has already issued that would affect the patentability of your invention. There are two Websites were you can perform a free patent search www.uspto.gov and www.FreePatentsOnline.com.
Take your time and be as thorough as possible when designing your invention or someone else will. Hopefully you are one of the 3% that is successful. You obtain a patent, get your product to market and your product is a success. This doesn't guarantee that someone else won't come along and design a better way of accomplishing what you did and acquire a patent that performs the same function.
Document each step in the development of your invention, have it witnessed and or notarized. Most banks have a notary. I would also recommend adding to your documentation any trademark names that you would like to associate with your invention. You can search the availability of trademark names at www.uspto.gov.
Build and test a prototype. This will help you to perfect your design and it will also be a good indicator of whether or not you should continue to pursue your invention. Depending on the invention you can often build the prototype yourself or with the help of friends. If necessary there are companies that can build a prototype for you. Look on the Internet and in the yellow pages.
Locate a patent attorney that is willing to take the time to explain the entire process and answer all your questions. I don't know of any patent attorneys that won't give you a free consultation. Ask him or her what the difference is between a utility patent, design patent and provisional patent. Ask which is most applicable to your invention and situation. It may be in your best interest to file more than one patent type. The average utility patent currently costs $10,000.00. If money is an issue, you have the option of which type of patent to file and the number of patents to file. Whether or not you file for a design patent or utility patent you have up to a year to file for the other type of patent once the initial patent issues. You must accept some of the responsibility to insure that the quality of your patent application is the best that it can be. No one knows your invention, its advantages and uses better than you. Generally speaking your patent is only as good as the information that you communicate to your patent attorney.
Attempt to license your product to a company that can incorporate it into an existing product line. It's difficult if not impossible to market a single SKU product, especially one that is unproven, even if you, your friends and the people that you have shown it to think it is the greatest thing since sliced bread. It's more difficult today than in the past for a new vendor (you) to do business with major retailers. Major retailers do not want to go through the work and expense involved in setting up a new vendor in their system, especially for a single SKU product company, both of which do not have a proven track record. You can research potential companies to license your product/patent by visiting retail stores and performing research on the Internet. Royalty agreements typical range from 3 to 5%, but can go as high as 8 to10% or higher if they really like your product. The royalty agreement percentage is typically based on the wholesale price, which is the price that the retailer pays the manufacturer for the product.
It's very likely that your patent will initially be rejected. In addition to responding to the examiners arguments, make a strong attempt to write an additional claim or claims. It will increase your chances that the patent will be allowed.
The information in this article is not in any way meant to replace the advice of a patent attorney. Always consult with an attorney regarding all intellectual property issues.