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Is there ever a reason to not patent your invention?

When you invent something, the chances are you will protect it. With intellectual property protection, you can better prevent others from using and monetizing your idea without your permission. This is why it is beneficial to have a patent for your inventions. However, in some instances, you can choose not to do so – but what would be the reasoning behind such a decision?

Here are two possible reasons:

1. You want to keep the invention private

When applying for a patent, applicants go through a search process. They search through thousands of inventions to confirm if theirs has already been patented. This means that patented inventions are published online and available for all to see. The goal of the U.S. patent system is to promote innovation; therefore, in exchange for a limited monopoly over use your invention, you must publish the detailed method and utility of your invention to the public. With that being said, you can hold off on seeking patent protection for your idea if you are not ready to publicize your creation.

Some companies in the food industry do this. They have secret recipes for foods and drinks but prefer keeping them secretive instead of attempting to gain patent protection (additionally, it is typically difficult to patent recipes).

Coca-Cola, for example, is famous for this and holds what some consider to be one of the world’s most valuable trade secrets: the recipe for Coca-Cola Classic. Nonetheless, most of these companies have strict confidentiality agreements prohibiting employees from sharing such information, and only a few people have access to it. For example, a Coca-Cola chemist was sentenced in May 2022 to 14 years in prison for stealing trade secrets for the company’s BPA-free can lining.

Further, patents expire after a set term; 20 years for utility and plant patents, and 15 years for design patents. After the end of the patent term, other people can use the invention without consequences. Thus, while patents are beneficial and can help you to monetize your idea, if you prefer that idea to remain secret, you don’t have to file for a patent. 

2. It’s too soon to secure a patent

When you get an idea, you can’t patent the idea alone. You need to turn that idea into an invention and understand how it can be implemented. When you apply for a patent, you will provide this information to the relevant patent office via your patent attorney. Therefore, if it’s too soon to fully elaborate on your ideas, you can wait before filing.


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