You are working on an innovation and are convinced it has potential. You want to make sure you have the Intellectual Property rights on it so that you can ultimately make money with it and/or increase the value of your company with it. One thing you should remember is that the timing of your patent application is vitally important.
When is it too early to apply for a patent?
If the technical details of the invention can still fundamentally change, if the prototype is not working properly, or the test results are still incomplete it is advisable to wait before applying for a patent. That is because you cannot simply change the text of a patent application once it has been filed.
When is it too late to apply for a patent?
If you keep on developing the invention until it is perfect, time will be ticking and other techies may also be working on a similar invention while you are doing so. If they file their patent application before you do, you will no longer able to patent your invention.
Cooperation sounds like a good idea, but ...
Have you already talked to investors or partners? Oeps, it is too late! Before you sit down with others, you must secure your rights in a patent application. This will ensure that it is absolutely clear who owns which rights. A non-disclosure agreement (NDA) can also be helpful at this stage, but does not offer as much protection as a patent. Without an NDA or patent application others can try to protect your idea as if it were their innovation. This is something that makes working with others a great deal less appealing.
Things to avoid
If you start trying to find out how marketable your innovation is going to be, you can also forget about applying for a patent. You might decide to present it at a trade fair, for example, or post it on LinkedIn to see what kind of response you get. If you do so, your invention will no longer be novel and that is an essential requirement if you want to get it patented. Once it has been published and become public knowledge you will have no chance of getting the exclusive rights to it.
So the perfect timing is .....
Clearly it is vitally important to get the timing of a patent application absolutely right if you want to be properly protected. The right time to act will be when the details of the invention have been sufficiently worked out.
To make sure you do not waste time and energy on an innovation process that others have already made watertight, I recommend that you take a look in the Espacenet patent database or Google Patents. These are also great places to find some inspiration!