Where to begin

  1. Identify a problem, something that needs fixing, or pick something that would make a daily task easier to perform
  2. Research solutions or inventions that might already exist to solve the problem you identified. Search everywhere--journals, libraries, the internet and be sure to use the patent database at http://www.uspto.gov to see what types of solutions exist. You can get started here: http://www.uspto.gov/patents/process/search/index.jsp
  3. Now that you've done your research may already come up with an invention that solves your particular problem, how does your invention differ from other solutions you found?
  4. Sketch your ideas on paper or make a sketch on the computer
  5. Build a model or prototype of your invention
  6. Test the model by using it so you can find out what works and what elements may need to be improved
  7. Refine your invention by doing more tests until you have something that works well and the way you intended it to work
  8. Ask yourself: Does my invention address the problem or need? If not, you may want to rethink the original problem you were set out to address or perhaps you have come up with a solution to a new or different problem (that can still have value)
  9. The cycle of invention does not end here. Improving your invention may require you to begin the process again and may lead to additional inventions or improvements on your current design

The Cycle of Invention

Chart showing arrows from number 1, 2, 3, 4 in a cycle
  1. You create an invention inspired by a societal need for improvement.
  2. You apply for and receive a patent, temporarily excluding others from making and using it, in exchange for public disclosure.
  3. Someone is inspired by your invention, leading them to the creation of other inventions or improvements.
  4. Competition is encouraged and you and other inventors are continuously inspired to think of new inventions.

"Before... any man might instantly use what another had invented; so that the inventor had no special advantage from his own invention. The patent system changed this; and secured to the inventor, for a limited time, the exclusive use of his invention; and thereby added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things."

-Abraham Lincoln, former President and patent holder