How to Turn Your Smart Idea Into a Bankable Invention

Paul Cerrato, MA

Disclosures

December 11, 2013

In This Article

Solving Problems and Making Connections

When determining whether your device solves a problem, it's best to grade the types of problem your invention is likely to fix. Kirschenbaum likes to divide solutions into several categories, including those that make it easier to perform a certain task; those that enable clinicians to perform a task that they simply could not perform previously; and those that solve central problems vs more peripheral problems.

Developing a fingerstick test that immediately detects AIDS, for instance, would solve a central problem in healthcare and generate high demand. Such products as liquid hand soap, in contrast, solve smaller problems by making it more convenient for clinicians to wash their hands. (Bar soap had already solved the central problem.)

Not everyone agrees that the best inventions come from clinicians who are trying to solve a problem that's in front of them. Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs (SoPE),[4] says inventors should be problem seekers, not problem solvers, looking for opportunities and market potential. But however you define the modus operandi of successful physician-inventors, most of them need a network of specialists to bring their brainstorm to market. That includes patent attorneys, designers, investors, and perhaps a PR firm.

SoPE provides workshops, seminars, and resources, including a network of local chapters that usually meet once or twice a month, says Meyers. "If you showed up at one of these local meetings, you'd probably meet entrepreneurs, attorneys, accountants, Website developers, sales and development people, and investors" who could help move your brainchild further down the road, according to Meyers.

Protecting Your Invention

A lawyer versed in this subject would probably spell out the options for protecting your intellectual property. Those options include a patent, trademark, copyright, and trade secret. Imran Khaliq, an attorney specializing in intellectual property with Arent Fox, a law firm based in Washington, DC, explained that when you make a public disclosure about your idea -- in a journal article, an online posting, or a submission to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for instance -- you should file a patent application ASAP to protect that idea.

If you are not ready to file a full patent application -- a major undertaking -- in that time frame, you can file a provisional patent application, which is basically a description of the invention.

That gives you a filing date at the patent office, says Khaliq. Essentially, you're planting your flag in the ground to proclaim, "This is my property." That provisional application allows you to freely talk about your idea with potential investors and developers without fear of having the concept stolen.

Once you file that first application, you have 12 months to decide whether to continue to develop the nonprovisional application with all the design specs needed to meet the federal rules. This is also a good time to put the invention into medical practice, making refinements to the device or software program so that you're fully prepared to dive into the full-scale patent application, which requires a patent attorney. The process of getting a full patent in the health field typically takes about 3 years but can be expedited in some instances, according to Khaliq.

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