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Does anyone have any experience obtaining patents? How difficult was it, and how long did it take? I have an idea that could possibly save fishermen a lot of money and headaches. I am talking to a mechanical engineer at the university where I work, and I believe he may be able to bring my idea to life. I understand that I must have a working prototype in order to obtain a patent, but my idea is not so much for a new product, but a modification to an existing product. I wonder if I could use the existing product with my modifications, or would I have to build the whole thing from the ground up? Here is an example of what I'm talking about: If I invented a new trigger mechanism for a gun, could I replace the old trigger with my own, or would I have to build a whole gun? I know I could do some research and find the answer to my question (and I will), but I'm just wondering if anyone has any experience with patents.

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As a JD, not attorney yet. I would say develop the product, apply for a patent number. Do research in the patent books about a similar product. Always do research for similar products, because you are not the only one who may have thought of something.  Even parts of the product could be infringing on another product. In the end if this is a legitimate product you are trying to produce, hire a patent attorney.

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I'm a mechanical engineer and have nine US patents.  The first step, always, is to do a patent search. There are several patent search engines online. You certainly don't want to spend the effort, if the idea is already patented. Next step is to document your idea (I don't think a working prototype is a necessary prerequisite)...afterwards, you will want to consult an intellectual property attorney. First meeting is usually free. At that point you will decide whether or not to pursue....filing fees are not cheap.

If I recall correctly, there is another process called a non-provisional agreement which allows to document your idea without actually filing.  You can later convert the agreement to a patent. This is a relatively cheap process (~$150), establishes the date of your idea, and buys you some time to research whether or not you'll want to go through the more costly patent submittal.

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