1) Evaluate the “Patent Landscape” before you invest significant resources. A patent attorney can help you with a “Freedom to Operate” opinion. This FTO opinion will contain a “prior art” search, which provides information regarding comparable patents, their inventors/assignees, whether the patents are in good standing, and the remaining patent term. This information will give you a greater understanding of the patentability of your new idea, will help you avoid infringing someone else’s patents, and will help you identify potential licensing issues. The FTO opinion can also help to avoid “willful” infringement should you later be sued.
2) File patent applications early and often. The U.S. recently changed to a “first to file” country like the rest of the world. This means that the race is lost if you don’t file first, even though you may have invented first. The United States Patent and Trademark Office maintains a website for frequently asked questions about the new rules at http://www.uspto.gov/aia_implementation/faqs_first_inventor.jsp.