A free handbook available at web.mit.edu/invent/www/handbook/
David Hitchcock, author of Patent Searching-Made Easy, has often pointed out that the Internet is a gold mine for information valuable to inventors. This web site is one such source of useful information. In twelve short chapters, it provides the nitty-gritty of the entire field of inventing. It does so in plain English, without brain candy or academic jargon.
Chapter 1, What is Intellectual Property, defines the words patent, trademark, copyright, and trade secret.
Chapter 2, What Can Be Patented, clarifies the difference between utility, design, and plant patents.
Chapter 3, Is My Idea Patentable, discusses the basic requirements for securing a patent. These are novelty, utility, and giving non-obvious results.
Chapter 4, How Do I Conduct a Patent Search?, emphasizes that before spending a great deal of time and money on what you may truly believe is an original idea, you should conduct a patent search. Not only will a good patent search determine if your idea is original, but it will suggest refinements and yield the names of companies that are potential licensees. It notes you can now do a preliminary search at low cost by using online databases. It cautions against fraudulent invention promotion firms.
Chapter 5, Is My Invention Worth Patenting, lists questions an inventor should ask him or herself. It quotes Thomas Edison's famous guideline, "Anything that won't sell, I don't want to invent". It also calls attention to filing a statutory invention registration (SIR) application which is a lower cost means available for someone wishing to donate technical knowledge.
Chapter 6, How do I apply for a Patent observes that preparing a patent application is "among the most difficult of all legal writing". It cautions that only the true inventor or inventors may be granted a patent, not investors.
Chapter 7, How Do I Prove the Idea Is Mine, quickly warns that mailing yourself a registered letter is not legal proof. (This method is like an urban legend -- it never dies. You will hear it over and over.) Keeping a proper notebook is vital. It must be permanently bound (not glued in pages) and recordings should be witnessed by two people who are not related to you.
Chapter 8, What Are Some Options to Commercialize My Patent, cites the pros and cons of selling, licensing, or launching your own company.
Chapter 9, How Do I License My Invention, relates the many licensing variations, such as exclusive, nonexclusive, territory covered and royalty rates. Selecting companies may be facilitated by consulting the Thomas Register and other sources at your local library. Again a stern warning is given in regard to using invention marketers to locate manufacturers. Many of these are fraudulent operations and some warning signs are given.
Chapter 10, What Are Some Guidelines in Developing a Business plan, makes the point that while waiting for a patent to issue is a good time to develop your business plan. Writing a business plan forces you to focus on goals, timelines and helps detect flaws and market potentials. Done concisely and professionally, it conveys a sense of credibility to investors.
Chapter 11, How Do I Raise Capital, recognizes raising capital is probably the greatest challenge that inventors face. Tips for finding partners, venture capitalists and government agencies that fund businesses are given.
The handbook concludes with a list of Resources for Inventors. The list is divided into General Guides, Legal Protection, Marketing and Business Guides, and Related Resources. One criticism may be made here regarding a lack of copyright dates on the books listed. While much of the information is indeed timeless, the inventor is wise to remember that patent laws change and it is important to be aware of what the law currently mandates. Along this same line, the explosive growth of the Internet often blinds us to the fact that information found on the Internet may be out of date or consist of questionable opinions.
All in all, this is a excellent little handbook for the inventor and it is free for the asking!