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I have a good product idea. But I don't have enough time or money to transform the idea into a real product. Instead, I would like to prevent other companies or individuals from getting a patent on the idea, so that someday I can continue the idea without a patent problem.

What can I do?

For example, what I know is you can't get a patent on an idea that is already known to people. If I make a working prototype and upload it on youtube will it prevent others from getting a patent on the idea? Globally? How about writing a blog post on the idea?

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    You can't actually make the idea useful. Someone else can. Why would you expect the system to let this happen, instead of shooting down your "blocker" and giving the patent to someone actually doing it?
    – Nij
    Oct 2 at 8:50
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    @Nij That is exactly how the system works. Patents are a temporary monopoly on something new. It is not meant to remove anything from the public that is already public. Once put in public it is free game to be exploited by anyone. Oct 2 at 22:53
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    @ChanohPark Around the mid 1990's, I was working at Microsoft on a US patent software system. I was told by one of the people there that IBM employees quite often had good ideas, but which the company wasn't going to use, at least at that time. Nonetheless, they were concerned about somebody else patenting these ideas so they could not freely use it themselves later. They tried to avoid that problem by publishing these ideas in their IBM Journal of Research and Development, so it would be considered to be "prior art". Oct 3 at 2:29
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    After reading the fine answers below, I suggest you file a patent (the fee is $80 for most normal people), but if you can't be bothered fully developing the details for a patent or just don't want to spend $80, consider publishing at the Half Bakery - halfbakery.com/editorial/help.html
    – Alex R
    Oct 3 at 18:33
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    @JohnOmielan, you can even hire some tech writers in another country to publish your idea using barely-comprehensible language in an over-priced, non-peer-reviewed journal that nobody reads but which is made available to patent offices, and it will be considered prior art for future patent submissions.
    – The Photon
    Oct 4 at 16:56
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If I make a working prototype and upload it on youtube will it prevent others from getting a patent on the idea?

Generally yes. If the core information is accessible to the public, it becomes "prior art" and cannot be patented anymore by someone else. That includes you. Depending on local legislation, you have a small time window to apply for a patent (after disclosure) but if you don't, it's public domain and everybody is free to use it. If it's mainly code, you may be able to upload to Github and attach a license to it but that offers only limited protection.

Globally?

That depends on local legislation which there are too many of, to answer this here.

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    In most places in the world the “small time window” is zero. In the U.S. it is a year, with serious qualifications. Oct 5 at 4:55
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I would like to prevent other companies or individuals from getting a patent on the idea, so that someday I can continue the idea without a patent problem.

Publication.

One of the best forms of publication is a patent. It's not desperately expensive to file an application, with no intention of proceeding to grant. It gets published as an application anyway. The big money needs to be spent to get the patent to grant, and then to renew the patent again every few years to keep it current to prevent other people manufacturing and selling your idea. Any patent examiner will check your competitors' patent applications against all patents and applications as a matter of course.

There are specialist magazines that exist solely for the purpose of publication, short of a patent application. In my patent department, we used to joke about the 'Icelandic Pig Breeders' Gazette' (not sure whether that was the actual title) and other such obscure publications where such patent 'poisoning' disclosures would be made, in any subject, mine was signal processing. Patent examiners search these as a matter of course as well.

Publication on YouTube? Not so sure. For an examiner it would be like looking for a video of a needle in a field, no, a country, no, a continent of haystacks. Patent examiners will not search for such a publication. If the title and keywords are good and descriptive, they may show up in a general search. Where such a publication would work is if you know that an application has been made, and you oppose it, citing the video as evidence. But you would have to know that an application had been made. Alternatively it's years perhaps decades later, you've commercialised your idea, you're being sued by a patent holder, and you're seeking to show that his patent is invalid over your prior publication. Is your posted video still retrievable, does YouTube still exist?

GitHub. Probably better than YouTube. The description will of course be text and picture files. Much better than a video of pictures and text, or listening to a description.

Whatever the publication route you choose, it needs a robust date mechanism that patent offices will accept as proof of publication prior to a specific date. I don't know how well accepted legally the mechanisms of YouTube, GitHub or any blog sites are. I've been out of the game for few years now, but I would imagine there's space in the market for a blockchain-based patent poisoning disclosure publication service, if there isn't one already.

You don't need to build a working prototype, or show it working. You do need to disclose how it works. That means at least a block diagram and description, sufficiently detailed so that 'one skilled in the art' can reproduce your invention from the publication. Read a few patents, and you'll get an idea of the level of detail that's required.

Protection from others' patents is probably the least of your worries if you want to commercialise your idea later. Simple economic competition will require the big bucks, if the idea is any good.

I would imagine the date mechanism on StackExchange is no worse than that of GitHub or YouTube, so you could do worse than to publish here, starting now. Normally, people get all coy about sharing their ideas if they think they might want to patent later. However, yours is the opposite. So, what's the idea? Give us the 20 second elevator pitch. You might get some better targetted advice then on how best to proceed. It might even turn out that your idea is anticipated by prior art, in which case you don't need to do anything.

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  • Do not tell us your invention unless you are giving up all option of patenting. Oct 4 at 20:44
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Writing a blog post could help, if a patent examiner happens to see it and can verify that its publication date is before the effective filing date of the application being examined. Since the prior art most readily accessible to most patent examiners is patents themselves and published patent applications, you could increase the visibility of your idea by filing a nonprovisional patent application. You don't even have to attempt to prosecute the application as long as it is complete, since the major patent offices automatically publish patent applications after a certain period after filing (such as 18 months) regardless of whether the application is ever allowed. This will at least get your idea into databases which are likely to be searched by patent examiners.

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I would like to prevent other companies or individuals from getting a patent on the idea, so that someday I can continue the idea without a patent problem.

What can I do?

You don't need to do anything. Ideas cannot be patented, therefore other companies or individuals cannot patent your idea. In fact, nobody, not even you, can patent your idea.

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    Depending what "idea" means in his context. Idea that poses a problem isn't patentable, idea how to solve a problem may be. Say general idea of "lets make a car that packs to a suitcase" is impossible to patent and The Jetsons wouldn't count as prior art. But idea "use these fancy sliding thingies to pack the car" is most likely patentable. (obviously if you have an idea for those sliding things, I don't) Oct 4 at 9:12
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    Yeah, this really depends on what is meant by 'idea' in the question. In at least some sense of the word, all patents are of ideas.
    – reirab
    Oct 4 at 20:26
  • @reirab: In my jurisdiction, the matter is pretty clear: only inventions can be patented, ideas cannot. Moreover, not any invention can be patented, a) there must be a so-called inventive step (this roughly corresponds to the US concept of non-obviousness, but is typically interpreted just a tiny bit stronger), b) it must be new (not state-of-the-art), c) the invention as a whole must be technical in nature, d) it must be commercially applicable, and e) it must be a singular invention (you can't patent multiple inventions in a single patent). "Ideas" typically violate d) and often … Oct 4 at 20:37
  • … they are broad and vague, and thus also violate e). In general, you can sell a device, a piece of software, a drug, a chemical, etc., but you can't sell an idea. Oct 4 at 20:37
  • @JörgWMittag Yes, only inventions can be patented in my jurisdiction as well, but inventions tend to be a subset of ideas, at least in common (not necessarily legal) usage of the word 'idea.' This is why I said it depends on what is meant by 'idea' in the question. People (who aren't lawyers) saying that they want a patent for an idea usually mean that the idea is specifically an invention (or at least they think it is.)
    – reirab
    Oct 4 at 20:39
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I would like to prevent other companies or individuals from getting a patent on the idea, so that someday I can continue the idea without a patent problem.

What can I do?

If I make a working prototype and upload it on youtube will it prevent others from getting a patent on the idea?

If you make a working prototype, you can submit it to the patent office and then get yourself the patent. Then, if someone else gets a patent that infringes your patent, you can sue to invalidate their patent.

If anyone exploits your invention commercially, whether having patented it or not, you can sue for damages and require them to license your patent before engaging in any further commercial activity using your invention.

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    It helps to make a convincing application, but you don't necessarily need a working prototype to file a patent application, nor to have a patent granted as far as I know. I personally have a patent on at least one thing that I didn't have a working prototype of at the time of the patent.
    – reirab
    Oct 4 at 20:28
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    No - this is a horribly confused and wrong answer. You can’t submit prototypes to a patent office. And patents do not infringe patents, products infringe patents. Oct 4 at 20:41
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Any patent practitioner will tell you this: a patent does not give you the right to practice your invention; it gives you the right to exclude others from practicing it. Exactly what you want!

The reason for the first part is that your invention might require other inventions in order for you to practice it.

The top-rated answers to this question are generally excellent. "Publishing" the article is the key, and there are lots of venues where you could do that in a way that the patent office would find it: "Medium" would be one site that comes to mind. You want to be sure that Google indexes it. Putting it in a blog post on Google's own blogging platform should do that, too!

Where I would differ with @Neil_UK is: prior art doesn't have to follow all the rules of a real patent. You don't have to describe it sufficiently for someone of ordinary skill in the art to build it, let alone actually build it -- that's for a real patent. But you certainly want to think about what a future malefactor might do, and put all of that into your publication.

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  • The last part of the answer is not completely correct in the U.S. In the U.S. prior art must be enabling, from MPEP — >Where a reference appears to not be enabling on its face, however, an applicant may successfully challenge the cited prior art for lack of enablement by argument without supporting evidence. In re Morsa, 713 F.3d 104, 110, 106 USPQ2d 1327, 1332 (Fed. Cir. 2013). There can be a presumption of enablement but it cam be successfully chalang. Oct 5 at 5:02
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One phrase for what you're talking about is Defensive Publication:

A defensive publication, or defensive disclosure, is an intellectual property strategy used to prevent another party from obtaining a patent on a product, apparatus or method for instance. The strategy consists in disclosing an enabling description and/or drawing of the product, apparatus or method so that it enters the public domain and becomes prior art. Therefore, the defensive publication of perhaps otherwise patentable information may work to defeat the novelty of a subsequent patent application.

IBM at one point had an entire publication, the IBM Technical Disclosure Bulletin, primarily intended to disclose inventions that they didn't consider to be worth the cost of patenting, to serve as prior art for the future in a well-known place that patent examiners could search. As one paper explains:

A search of the US Patent database from 1996 to 2001 reveals almost 10,000 patents that cite the IBM Technical Disclosure Bulletin as prior art. The Bulletin, which is published as a component of Research Disclosure, is a mechanism for defensive publishing. Citation of a publication, such as the Bulletin, in a patent application indicates that the publication contributes to the state of the art against which the application is judged. IBM uses the Bulletin to advance the state of the art, thereby raising the bar for its competitors’ patent applications. In other words, Bulletin publications force IBM’s competitors to narrow their patent claims, helping IBM to reduce the possibility that its competitors’ patent claims will encompass IBM inventions.

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