A Patently Risky Business
Because patent attorneys charge many thousands of dollars to prepare and file a patent application, some people with the next bright idea opt for the "poor person's patent" (call it the three Ps), which is simply to write up a patent-like description and send it to themselves by registered mail or to pay a notary public to seal it in an envelope.
According to Kirk Teska, author of Patent Savvy for Managers: Spot & Protect Valuable Innovations in Your Company, the inventor is usually better off saving the postage or notary fees because such an approach is more often than not useless.
Teska adds that a provisional patent application can be more useful, but the full "utility" patent application must be filed within a year of the provisional. Given the risks of drafting the provisional improperly, and given that it could end up costing nearly as much as a real patent application, Teska recommends biting the bullet and opting for the whole shebang. With respect to patents, he notes that "you get what you pay for," a consideration that bootstrappers might want to keep in mind.
You can read the longer explanation here. Another good article on patents is here. Before you line up at the US Patent and Trademark Office, however, you might do well to check out that someone hasn't already patented your idea for swinging and pets. If you're interested, here's one way to address the problem of silly patents.
By Thomas Kang