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If I am a US citizen and I want to patent an idea but I don't have any money, what is the best way to protect it? WIPO? USPTO? Where to start?

All the answers I saw on June 17, 2023 were excellent. I'm new to asking questions on StackExchange, so I will not attempt to merge answers, etc. Please excuse me.

The answers I received are excellent so I believe the answers should remain here.

I decided to focus on establishing trademark protections, as they are worldwide, immediate, and can be made stronger as I go.

As they say, patents are only as good as the lawyers who defend them.

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  • Having a Trademark won’t stop someone from selling your invention. It will only stop them from calling it exactly what you call it.
    – Eric S
    Jun 23, 2023 at 0:14

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You can keep the idea to yourself and others who agree to keep it confidential. You can try to interest investors in backing a company you could start to secure and exploit the invention. Professional investors rarely sign NDAs or otherwise agree to keep your secrets but friends and family might.

The provisional application filing fee for a micro-entity is $60 and a used copy of Patent it Yourself can be had for under $6.

The USPTO has a pro bono program that operates in some areas of the country. The patent attorney is free but you pay filing fees.

Bear in mind that very few inventions end up making money and please stay away from invention submission companies. You might look for an inventors club in your area.

This site is exclusively for question about patents within a particular scope. A tag for patent makes no sense - all on-topic questions are about patents.

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As a complement to George White's answer, you can find information about the USPTO's Pro Bono Program here. Here is another helpful USPTO webpage. You can find information about filing a Provisional Patent Application here. The provisional basically gives you protection from someone else filing for the same invention for a year. It doesn't mean you have a patent and it doesn't mean you won't need to file a regular patent application to obtain a patent. Startups often use provisional applications to give them time to raise funds from investors. Patents are territorial so a US patent is only effective in the US. If you want protection in other countries you'll need to file in those countries.

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