When an inventor comes up with a new idea, they often worry about how to protect their invention from being stolen or copied. It would be incredibly distressful to invest time in a project only for someone else to steal the credit. Patents are not cheap, however, so your first instinct may be to turn to what is called a “poor man’s patent.”

If you’re unsure of what this is, or you have heard of it and are looking to learn more about it, the patent attorneys at Emerson Thomson Bennett can explain why this may not be the best option.

What is a Poor Man’s Patent?

A poor man’s patent, also known as a “poor man’s copyright,” is a method of protecting an invention through the U.S. postal service. What you can do is mail a copy of your patent to yourself and keep the unopened envelope as proof of when you came up with the idea. 

The idea behind this method is that the postmark date on the envelope can serve as evidence in a court of law if someone tries to copy or steal your invention. The whole point of a patent is to have a record with the government that states when you invented something, and the postal service technically makes a record. Since the postal service is currently and uniquely both a private and public entity, it would still be considered a record by a government agency. 

It’s such an attractive idea because if it were to hold up in court, a poor man’s patent would cost the same as a stamp and an envelope.

Does a Poor Man’s Patent Hold Up in Court?

Despite looking and sounding like a patent, it is not one. Currently, this method has never been tested in court, so there is no legal precedent for it. While this may make you think that there’s a chance it could work, that lack of legal precedent works against it. With no proof that the postal service is a trustworthy record source for patents, there’s no evidence to back up that the poor man’s patent is real or legal. 

In fact, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) specifically states that a poor man’s patent is not a substitute for an actual patent.

Can a Poor Man’s Patent Replace an Actual Patent?

Again, the answer is no. A poor man’s patent cannot replace or act as a substitute for an actual patent. A patent is the only way to legally protect an invention and have exclusive rights to it. Without a patent, anyone can copy or steal your idea without consequence. Additionally, obtaining a patent provides stronger and more enforceable protection for your invention.

Alternative Options for Inventor Protection

While a poor man’s patent may not be a reliable option for protecting an invention, there are other avenues that inventors can explore beyond a typical patent. One option is filing a provisional patent application with the USPTO. 

This allows an inventor to establish an early filing date and have “patent pending” status while working towards a full patent application.

Another option is to seek legal advice from a patent attorney who can guide the inventor through the process of obtaining a patent.

So, What Can You Do to Protect Your Invention?

The best way to protect your invention is by obtaining a patent. While it may be a lengthy and costly process, it provides the strongest legal protection for your invention. In addition, keeping detailed records of your invention, including sketches, prototypes, and any other documentation, can act as evidence in case of a patent dispute.

A poor man’s patent may seem like a quick and easy solution for protecting an invention, but it is not a reliable method. To truly protect your invention, it is important to obtain a patent and keep detailed records of your invention. This will ensure that you have the strongest legal protection for your valuable idea. 

So, if you have a groundbreaking invention, don’t rely on a poor man’s patent – invest in an actual patent to make your intellectual property safe.  With the help of experienced patent attorneys at Emerson Thomson Bennett, you can protect your invention. Contact us today.



We provide complete intellectual property representation to business owners, inventors and artists in all matters related to the establishment and protection of domestic and international patents, trademarks and copyrights. Attorneys at our firm also serve as in-house IP counsel for companies whose needs do not call for a full-time internal position.






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