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I got an interesting comment on one of today's 3D Thursday posts. To quote: "As more of us transition from hobbyists to business people we struggle to balance open source ideals with the crushing reality of patent law and the 'ownership' of ideas. I've been looking for answers and asking around but no one has any concrete information". 

Does anyone know of a good online resource for this sort of thing? 
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Our readers are creative entrepreneurial types. A common dilemma for them is to have what strikes them as a very clever and potentially profitable idea, but to have no idea how to begin commercializing it or seeking protection.  I have been in this situation many times myself, and it can be very frustrating, because when you're in the creative / manic part of the process you can feel very trapped by a good idea: it's brilliant, it could make me rich, OMG WTF do I do?

The US patent office offers a so-called provisional patent application that sounds complicated but isn't. Basically, you write them a letter describing your idea in as much detail as possible.  They receive it, note the postmark date, and save it for a year.  If you subsequently file for a full Utility or other patent during that time, if a question of priority ever comes up, you enjoy the benefit of the provisional patent's filing date.  

So, I firmly believe, the best solution for a small inventor who's panicked about their brilliant idea is to fire off a provisional patent application.  That secures their place in line, and gives them a year to calm down, do market research, talk to attorneys and/or investors, etc., etc.
 
I might suggest the other direction that you can take a project, open sourcing the project/code/etc.

Dump the code on Github, project files on Thingiverse, and open up ideas to the people and have a product to market first.

Just my 2¢.
 
I think that works to an extent, but for projects like the 3Doodler, which is really drop-dead simple, getting a patent for protection makes sense to me. If they open sourced that a few months ago, I bet a large company would've picked it up and cloned it by now. 
 
But, why do they need to have a patent? Couldn't another company come to market? Not trying to be a luddite, but what does a patent really offer?
 
It offers them sole ownership of that particular method of cooling the plastic, which they obviously think works really well. If another company comes along and tries to sell a similar product, they'll have to use a method of cooling that doesn't tread on 3Doodler's patent, which could limit them. 
 
There's also the possibility that the other competition could come up with a smarter/better cooling method and open source the design while they're at it. There are a lot of smart people out there and if they really put their mind to it, they can work their way around a patent.

If I were to start a small business, I wouldn't want to risk spending the ridiculous amount of money to hire a patent lawyer. Instead, I rather open source all my designs (so companies can't patent them and to give me that marketing boost of being open-source) and keep innovating on them.   
 
Yeap, prepare for your good ideas more feasible and try to register your idea/ creative product/technologies to the Patent Government Offices. If you can hold that for 1 year until you update or you have a good promotion strategies to other investor/ buyer then, that IDEAS you have worked so much will give you good results in law and finance.

but, please to read again about Patent Law in your area.
 
I was talking about the 3doodler with a friend who has a filament line and thinks the device and underlying technology is unpatentable, which is to say won't survive it's first challenge.  He said after seeing the success it was simple and tempting to bring a clone to market before the launch date, but that it was probably a bigger opportunity to build "crayola" style filament packs designed for the device.

Personally I've run into that problem over and over again - Great idea ! Shit, I don't have all the skills to implement it... Shit I don't have enough money to pay for the help I need... Shit, I can't talk about it or open-source it because someone with resources will beat me to market with my own idea while I'm still building a team.
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