Intellectual property is no less important to the vending machine and self-serve kiosk industries than to any other technology-based industry. There are a variety of reasons to pursue intellectual property, the most obvious of which is to protect innovations from copying by competitors.
Sometimes these rights have to be enforced in court, but the vast majority of the time, the mere existence of the patent, trademark or copyright is enough to dissuade copiers. Another reason is to build value in the business.
Intellectual property rights are assets that increase the value of the business. They also can help secure needed financing.
Still another reason is to attract investors, who feel their investment is more secure when the business in which they invest is protected.
There are five broad areas of intellectual property: utility patents, design patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Each of these intellectual property rights protects a different aspect of innovation, although there is some overlap. The right protection depends upon the nature of the innovation.
Utility patents protect useful, new and non-obvious products, machines, compositions of matter and processes. In the vending machine and kiosk industries, utility patents can protect new preparation or dispensing mechanisms, devices for coin and note validation or card processing.
A utility patent generally has a term of 20 years from its earliest non-provisional U.S. filing date. The typical cost of applying for a utility patent for a moderately complex invention is between $6,000 and $9,000, although there will almost certainly be additional costs in prosecuting the application (arguing with the patent office) to get the patent allowed, and (hopefully) paying the issue fee. On average, it takes about 25 months to get a utility patent.
After the utility patent issues, maintenance fees must be paid between three and a half and four years, seven and a half and eight years, and 11.5 and 12 years, from issuance or the patent will expire on the fourth, eighth, or 12th anniversary of issuance.
To qualify for patent protection, the invention must be useful, it must be novel (new or different from anything previously publicly known), and even if the invention is novel, it must also be more than an obvious variation from what was previously publicly known.