I had an idea for how to make a certain product much better. I'm currently in the prototyping stage for a product based on that idea. That idea (the solution to the problem of improving that product in certain ways) is patentable according to all the stuff I read about patents. But patents are really expensive: My primary market would be western Europe (member states of the European Patent Convention) and possibly later the US, that would cost a 4-digit USD amount upfront and in total a 5-digit amount within a couple of years, as far as I can tell.

So I'm evaluating the possibility of just keeping my invention secret until I'm ready to sell a product based on it and then publishing the full details to make sure no one else can patent it.


But when I'm selling such a product: Would competitors need to design a new product based on my idea, involving all the prototyping and too easy to patent but still not trivial problems - or would it be legal to take my product apart, put the parts in a 3D scanner and produce the exact same product? Where is the border between what is allowed and what not, exactly?

Hypothetical example:

Say I found a new method to make car chassis more aerodynamic. There are certain equations and methods which are applied during the development process, and to keep anyone else from patenting them, I publish them (in my case, the invention is obvious from the final product). Are the competitors allowed to take the chassis I developed and use that, or do they need to design their own using my methods?

  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it belongs on patents.stackexchange.com – BlueDogRanch Oct 13 '18 at 13:32
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    @BlueDogRanch many questions that fall into the scope of patents.stackexchange are also within the scope of law.stackexchange—see meta discussion. Also, this question is not within the scope of patents.stackexchange, which is limited to US patents. This question is about protections outside the patent system. – rhymes_with_dorange Oct 13 '18 at 13:55
  • In practice, patents.stackexchange.com does deal with non-US patent questions – George White Oct 15 '18 at 4:39

Without a patent, your inventions are not protected (except as trade secrets). If you publish your findings, anyone can use them.

It is possible to patent the specific design of your chassis. Design patents, which cover the specific aesthetic design of something, can be less expensive than utility patents, which cover functional aspects. Although your chassis is designed with functionality in mind, it will also embody an aesthetic design.

That said, enforcement of patent rights (or any other rights you might hope protect your chassis) is orders of magnitude more expensive (typically millions of dollars) than merely obtaining a patent. Thus, even if you do obtain protection for the chassis design or the method of designing it, your budget may make it impractical to effectively take advantage of those protections, unless a law firm is willing to take the case on contingency.

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    +1 In summary: patents tend to protect corporate advantages, not personal advantages, since the average person can't afford to defend their patent. – phyrfox Oct 13 '18 at 15:51
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    So, sell your idea to a company that has the interest and capacity to patent it. Negotiate a fixed price or a share in revenue of applicable – sehe Oct 13 '18 at 19:44
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    @sehe It's a possibility. Although to be able to sell it I think probably I should go the first steps of an international patent application so I can freely talk about my invention and then sell the pending patent including plans for the prototypes and everything. Talking to interested parties about my idea before I have proof it's mine sounds like a recipe for disaster. – Nobody Oct 13 '18 at 21:08
  • You might want to read up on Robert William Kearns' story as a forewarning; there was even a movie made of it. tl;dr even having a personal patent prior to negotiation doesn't stop them from turning you down, stealing it, and forcing you to finance claims (while they're raking in millions, and you nothing.) – Skrylar Oct 13 '18 at 23:25
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    Why won't copyright be enough to protect a design? – Greendrake Oct 14 '18 at 2:32

Just as an idea, you can apply for a patent, which is much much cheaper than going through the full patent process. This will give you some protection - you may be able to get a patent by finishing your application when someone starts copying. But you should consult someone with good knowledge of the patent process to find out the exact cost and the exact protection it gives you.

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  • As far as I understand, the only legal protection it offers is priority against other applications for the same invention. But it's a deterrent: I could at any time decide to sell the application to someone with the necessary clout to finish and then enforce it. Or could make the necessary amount of money myself somehow. And I will of course consult at least one patent lawyer, but the more I know in advance the less that will cost me. – Nobody Oct 14 '18 at 12:05

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