Start early.
If you make something public before you file your patent, you start the clock ticking against you in the U.S. You have less than one year from the date you make your invention or improvement public to file. Also, when you do make it public, you typically lose international patent options.
Make sure a patent fits your business strategy.
Patents that do not directly support your core business are usually a waste of time and money, especially for small businesses.
Don't do it yourself.
You can file patents yourself for as little as $150. But you are likely to do it wrong. Unless you have expertise and a past track record with obtaining patent protection, don't take patent matters into your own hands. When it comes to licensing deals and confidentiality agreements you should always ask an IP (intellectual property) expert first. That's because you might be tying your hands or giving away important rights (through confusing non-use and assignment clauses).
Budget properly.
Patent research and filing costs are like any other startup costs--you need to plan for them. Ask for flat rate fees or a budget to complete a given project before getting started--otherwise you will have no idea what to expect until the legal bills arrive (every month).
Check for landmines.
Don't move forward blindly--check for patent landmines planted by others. The best way to avoid them is being informed up front, before you build your business or a new product line in someone else's patent space.
Leverage technology.
Patent research can be streamlined with commercial software and online databases. Evaluating patent and technology space is not a one-shot deal; it needs to be updated and repeated over time to stay informed and to continue to make good decisions.
Look outside.
Since most patents cover improvements that build on something else and so much intellectual property is not used commercially, there may be great opportunities to bring technology into your company without investing in the R&D and patenting costs. This requires proactive research, but can quickly advance the company's competitive position.
Measure results.
When you grow large and have lots of patents, keep track of what value they have brought you. You need to keep an eye on the competition and make sure that you are leveraging your investment.
Look abroad.
If your product is needed in the U.S., it may be needed overseas. The World Intellectual Property database[link to] is a good starting point to search for international patents and to file a place holder for protection. You ultimately have to file for protection in each country where you need protection, but this is a start.

Patents 101

When you decide that filing a patent is the right thing for your small business, here are nine tips to help you get it done

By Vivek Wadhwa

Dealing with all the issues surrounding patents isn't as fun as building a business. But if you are smart in what you patent and how you patent it, you could be making a key investment in your business. To get advice for entrepreneurs who are in the process of creating a new product and are considering filing a patent, I spoke to JiNan Glasgow, a patent lawyer and CEO of patent search firm Neopatents. She offered the following nine suggestions.

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