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Ask a Lawyer: Can an Idea for a Product Be Patented?

Every week, our guest attorneys answer your questions on the Rocket Lawyer facebook page.

On June 27, the questions ranged from patents, settlement letters, handling a pro-se lawsuit, and short sale vs. a deed in lieu.  Scroll down to see all of the questions and answers. Please visit us on Facebook to see the next Ask a Lawyer date and ask your question:

Q2 Ask a Lawyer: Can an idea for a product be patented?

Can an idea for a product be patented? How involved is the process and how much does it cost? — Steve K.


A2 Ask a Lawyer: Can an idea for a product be patented?

Although you can patent a product, it has to be more than just an idea. It has to be new, useful, and unique, too. If it passes that test–and if no one else beat you to it–filing for a patent is a great idea.

If you’re working with an attorney, the cost of organizing your patent application varies depending on how complex it is and how much research needs to be done. If you want to get started on your own, you can file a provisional patent yourself to stake your claim. If it’s accepted, you’ll need file the full patent application later within 12 months. The provisional filing fee is $125 with the USPTO. We can walk you through the provisional patent application here:

In the meantime, you can also protect your idea by keeping it secret. If you’re going to tell anyone about it, use a non-disclosure agreement. Some people have been able to keep these so-called trade secrets for a long time, like Coca Cola’s secret formula.

There’s a lot to think about when you’re going for a patent. Talking to an intellectual property attorney can help out a lot. Our On Call attorneys offer free consultations if you’re ready to get started.

Q2 Ask a Lawyer: Can an idea for a product be patented?

I have a friend who runs a restaurant chain and he has two former employees trying to sue him for wage-related issues. They’ve brought him a settlement letter from their attorney detailing the payment that they want to receive (roughly 300K).

His question is the following: What kind of weight does a settlement letter actually carry? What are his options from this point forward? Is it worth it to take it to court and/or how does he determine how much it would cost to try to argue the amount? — Arthur Y.

A2 Ask a Lawyer: Can an idea for a product be patented?

First things first, Arthur, tell your friend to talk to a lawyer.  Typically settlement letters are designed to settle everything surrounding a given case. One side typically gives up its right to sue. In exchange, the other side usually offers up payment of some sort. Everyone agrees it’s a reasonable outcome, and the matter is thus settled. Get it? Settlement?

Bottom line, signing a settlement letter is serious business, so it shouldn’t ever be done lightly. And the higher the stakes, the more carefully it should be pursued.

If your friend wants help connecting with a lawyer we’d be happy jump in:

Q2 Ask a Lawyer: Can an idea for a product be patented?

Family member representing herself in a case. The case was against her and also a bank. Plaintiffs lawyer recently dropped the bank from the case. Family member had not filed motion for her own witnesses, but was rather relying on witnesses called forth by bank. Can she request that those witnesses remain?

Also, bank lawyer had sent out deposition notice for plaintiff who never showed up. As a result, he filed a motion to bar plaintiff from being able to speak at trial. He voluntarily withdrew that motion upon being dismissed from the case. Could she file a motion that he remain barred from speaking? A notice of deposition was never sent to her. – Milcah S.

A2 Ask a Lawyer: Can an idea for a product be patented?

Being involved in a lawsuit is really tough, and it’s no easy feat to represent yourself. It sounds like your family member could really benefit from speaking to an attorney. Some attorneys provide free consultations, and our On Call attorneys certainly can offer that. Your family member may also seek help from other organizations that provide legal help to people who are struggling financially. I wish there were an easy answer we could provide, but the type of questions you have are best answered by an attorney who knows all the details of the case, including the local rules and the claims made.

Q2 Ask a Lawyer: Can an idea for a product be patented?

What’s the different between a short sale and a deed in lieu? — Nick M.


A2 Ask a Lawyer: Can an idea for a product be patented?

Sounds like you might be looking for an alternative to foreclosure? Both are alternatives to foreclosure and are similar to each other. With a deed in lieu, you give your property to the bank (or other lender) in exchange for the bank canceling the loan. The bank promises not to initiate foreclosure BUT the lender may not forgive the deficiency balance. There could also be some tax ramifications so be sure to check with a tax specialist.With a short sale, the bank agrees to accept less than the balance owed and MAY forgive any deficiency–also, you keep ownership of the property. This is a lot to take in and may be worth talking to a lawyer who can understand the details of your issue.

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