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This is a multiple part question.

  1. Besides patenting what steps should one take to protect an idea? Besides pictures, and documents with dates.
  2. If the idea of a product is what makes it new, does one need to necciserily submit designs?
  3. Is it really worth getting a professional to file a patent? (provisional)
  4. How does one weigh the risk of someone else also stumbling across the same idea while also waiting to patent? In other words is it one of those things you should just do ASAP?
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  1. Besides patenting what steps should one take to protect an idea? Besides pictures, and documents with dates.

There are all sorts of protections out there, so it mostly depends on the type of invention.

It sounds like you already have the gist of what a patent is, but do keep in mind, you can't patent an idea, just an invention. That's a somewhat colloquial phrase in the patent world, and the words are similar in day-to-day English, but it's an important distinction to remember. Your idea has to have an actual implementation that enables others skilled in the art to perform it.

That said, there's not a lot you can do to really protect your invention that a patent won't do better. There's a classic myth of mailing yourself a description of the invention and leaving it sealed, but that doesn't hold up. At the end of the day, the United States works off a "first to file" system, so pretty much, the first to send in the application gets the patent.

The best way to protect your patentability is to file a non-provisional application (or a provisional if you either can't afford a non-provisional but will be able to soon, or if you aren't sure of what to claim yet).

And while the application is being drafted, avoid any public disclosures.

  1. If the idea of a product is what makes it new, does one need to necciserily submit designs?

Nope, designs aren't required.

However, I don't think I've ever seen a good application that didn't include them. Again, the point of a patent application is to enable others to perform your invention, and drawings are generally a really good way to assist with that. In many cases, an examiner will ask for drawings if you omit them, at which point you have to include them. But no, they aren't a legal requirement.

  1. Is it really worth getting a professional to file a patent? (provisional)

First off, a provisional application is just that: an application. It never turns into a patent. If you want a patent, you have to file a non-provisional application. You can think of a provisional application as a way to announce to the USPTO that you intend to file a non-provisional. In exchange, they give you a year's time to figure out what exactly you want your patent to claim, and the ability to backdate that patent to the date you filed the provisional.

That said, yes. The specification from your provisional will last through your non-provisional. While the specification isn't what will eventually protect your invention (the claims), it does have a significant impact on what you're allowed to include in your claims.

I'd definitely suggest using a professional's help for the non-provisional if you can only afford one of the two, but I have seen cases where inventors wrote their own provisionals, and ended up throwing them out, and losing the dates.

  1. How does one weigh the risk of someonelse also stumbling across the same idea while also waiting to patent? In other words is it one of those things you should just do ASAP?

There are two reasons to wait to patent something:

  • You can't afford it
  • You are extremely unsure on what specifically you'll be patenting.

The fact that you're asking these specific questions suggests to me that you're not stuck on either of those, so yes, I would suggest going for it ASAP.

There's always risk that someone else will file for the invention before you, but there's often no way to tell, as applications are, by default, held secret for eighteen months from the filing. So there's also a chance that you'll beat someone else to it.

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