There is no obligation to apply for patent protection. You can use different strategies to protect your invention:
- keep your invention secret and protect it as a trade secret. As long as you keep your invention secret and you do not make it public, it can still be considered new in terms of public state of the art (see step 2 for more information about novelty). This option is fine as long as nobody else has the same innovative idea. However, there is always a risk that someone else comes up with the same invention and will apply for a patent for the idea that you came up with first. If you want to know more about trade secrets, consult our Trade Secret Smart Guide.
- make your invention public. By making your invention public without a patent, your invention becomes part of the public state of the art. So anyone can use your technology, but no one (not your competitor, not even yourself) can file a patent on this published invention and can prohibit others to make use of this invention. If you want to use this strategy to hinder your competitors, it is important that there is a clear publication date and a proper technical description of your invention.