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 Oct 13, 2018 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. Oct 13, 2018 at 13:55
  • In practice, patents.stackexchange.com does deal with non-US patent questions Oct 15, 2018 at 4:39
  • Are you sure you are not violating any of the patents of the current products?
    – lalala
    Aug 28, 2021 at 13:18

3 Answers 3


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.

  • 5
    +1 In summary: patents tend to protect corporate advantages, not personal advantages, since the average person can't afford to defend their patent. Oct 13, 2018 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, 2018 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, 2018 at 21:08
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    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, 2018 at 23:25
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    Why won't copyright be enough to protect a design?
    – Greendrake
    Oct 14, 2018 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, 2018 at 12:05

So here is how you do it according to the playbook:

  • You make a market analysis first (which you probably did) and write your business plan
  • Then you build the prototype (which you are doing now)
  • You file a patent with help of a good patent lawyer (assume 3-4k USD, not 100% on that number), probably US and EU (there is also a provision you can file in another country in a certain timeframe after, get the advise of the lawyer). Spend as little money as possible for the patents
  • Immediately after filing you try to get funding for your startup. When they ask you in the pitch about your product if you have patents, you only say 'we filed a patent'. Not more, not less (except if they ask more details)

Then get the funding, and go sort of big. You cannot launch/produce/make a product with 100k. You need 500k, probable 100k-200k for going from prototype to product and 300k marketing (sales team, advertisement)

Well I don't know your market, so take this all with a grain of salt, but launching a product is expensive (especially if you worry it can be copied, you need to get big enough fast so you can fight/or it doesn't matter if then your brand is stronger than the current players)

  • Filing a patent in US+EU is more like $20000, remember that the EU is not one country but more than 20 and patents have a per-country cost. The cost for developing and mass-producing a product also strongly depends on the product, the example I gave is kind of tricky and probably hard to pull off with just half a million, while other examples (let's say something that consists of a two-layer PCB and a simple injection molded case) would be much much cheaper.
    – Nobody
    Aug 28, 2021 at 13:42
  • @Nobody You need to think how to cut corners. You can register the patent in one country and then you have the right for 12 month (your lawyer will tell you the details) to still file in the whole of EU, like in Germany: dpma.de/patente/patentschutz_im_ausland/index.html . The whole point is to limit cost exposure before you get funding. Sorry if I didnt make it too clear in the answer. Eventually, if you are successful the costs will go up substantially. Do not spend 20k without external funding.
    – lalala
    Aug 28, 2021 at 13:48
  • Yeah, sure, the point of this question was to find out if I can cut corners and just not file a patent at all.
    – Nobody
    Aug 28, 2021 at 13:52
  • @Nobody I believe you do not get funding if you do not have a patent filing to show for. (generally, there are always exceptions, but you can of course talk to the investors first)
    – lalala
    Aug 28, 2021 at 13:54

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