It may be hard to believe, but coming up with a fresh, new idea is possibly the easiest step in bringing an innovation to life. Even though it took large amounts of creativity, ingenuity and resourcefulness to come up with your idea in the first place, it takes grit, stamina and business savvy to transform it into a living, breathing product. The first — and arguably the most important — step is protecting your invention through patent protection. Simply put, inventors need a patent to make money. Here are top ways you can navigate this process:

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  1. Ask Yourself: Is My Idea Patentable?

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t simple, but there are key considerations that inventors should evaluate before starting the costly and long patent application process. First, an idea needs to have a practical purpose, or “utility,” while still being a novel and inventive concept. Additionally, inventors should ensure that nothing too similar to their idea has been previously published or invented. Our Resources for Inventors Patent & Protection section on the ENM website has many useful links on patentability.

  1. Have a Non-Disclosure Agreement Handy

When an inventor publicly discloses his or her idea prior to seeking patent protection, they are jeopardizing their project. Whether an inventor shares their idea face-to-face or on an online forum, each time they explain their creative thinking to someone else, they are susceptible to getting their idea stolen without any legal consequences. That’s why it’s important to draft a non-disclosure agreement, also known as a confidentiality agreement. This document should serve as a portable asset that can be dished out when the time is right — whether you’re seeking business advice in a formal conference room or potential partners at a restaurant.

  1. Understand the Risks

Before you quit your day job to pursue your invention full time, it’s important to understand the significant costs involved in bringing an idea to life. From market research and product design to prototyping and legal fees, building a profitable business from your idea is complicated, so it’s important to honestly ask yourself whether or not your idea is even worth the time and money investment. The best way to reduce risks along the way is to familiarize yourself with every stage of the innovation process — from conducting research, improving on your design and completing a market analysis.

  1. Make Sure Your Idea is Original

Before starting the patent application process, it’s important to make certain that no other same or similar product exists on the market today. First, search the Internet using a variety of keywords. Then, speak directly to your target consumers, asking them what sorts of products or improvised solutions they currently use to solve similar problems at hand. If you find that your idea is similar to many of their answers — but not identical to existing products — there may still be room in the marketplace for your innovation.

   5.  Know What Kind of Protection is Best For Your Product

Intellectual Property is a relatively broad concept that encompasses three main focuses: Patent, trademark and copyright protection. Usually, more than one form of protection is relevant, but it’s important to choose the one that best fits your idea, as the application process for each is lengthy and costly. Generally speaking, a patent offers an inventor complete property rights, trademarks uphold an idea’s originator, and a copyright protects works of authorship, such as writings, music and works of art that have been tangibly expressed, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.