Patents: When do you need them?

I was thinking of patenting the device I designed and built last semester for a graduate school project. I talked to a professor who
has experience applying for patents, and he tells me that it costs on the order of $10,000 to obtain a patent and even more to try to enforce it. I get the impression that the patent process is heads-I-win-tails-you-lose. If nobody attempts to exploit your idea, it's probably because there isn't much of a market for it. If there is a big market for it, several entities will exploit your idea, and they will have deeper pockets for legal battles against you.
So when does it make sense to file for a patent? In case you are wondering, my device is a better SWR/wattmeter. It doesn't involve any exotic physical or chemical principles - it's something I decided to create because of shortcomings in existing designs that I thought could be overcome. The most it can do is take the world of amateur radio world by storm. It won't make me the next Bill Gates.
Should I file for the patent? Or is it too much time and money for too dubious a benefit?
Jason Hsu, AG4DG usenet@@@@@jasonhsu.com
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jason snipped-for-privacy@my-deja.com (Jason Hsu) writes:

Seems a bit high on the cost side. But depends on the coverage you want. Patents are not world-wide. It can cost heaps to Patent stuff for Russia, etc.
Patents exist for two reasons; to protect the rights of the inventor and to publish an invention.
Your search of Patents should identify similar inventions. Search is an expensive process if you're paying a "lawyer" to do it.

It makes sense if you've invested lost in R&D; especially if you've committed lots of capital to the production process.
Your grad. school may have claims on your invention.
If you've published (school project) the idea prior to Patent, you've shot yourself in the foot as far as Patent goes.

There are a number of options.
One you may not have considered is to speak, in-confidence, with existing manufacturers about your idea and see if they'll pay you for the idea; or secure your employment after graduation.
It would be useful to withhold some critical inventive step(s) until they've signed on the dotted line. They may tell you that they've already tried that, it won't work, etc.. Your earlier search should give you an idea of the veracity of their argument.
Always make sure that they sign an agreement that prevents them from exploiting any of the ideas discussed, BEFORE discussions commence. If they finally agree; and set a deadline for them by which to agree; they can then Patent at their cost, with you as the Inventor, assigning rights to them.
Should all of that fall through, then I suggest that you publish your idea in whatever media you have access. That includes the Internet. That alone will prevent a monopolistic exploitation of your idea.
There are a lot of faster ways to get rich than becoming an Engineer!
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You should always do a patent search as to make sure it does not already exist somewhere, but never been produced, before selling. Companies and institutions with research departments patent all kinds of things they never produce and do this cheaply. They see a good product, check their patents and can come take what you make if they have patent(s) that applies. They have the lawyers to do it to (you would be forced to settle).
(Jason Hsu) writes:

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jason snipped-for-privacy@my-deja.com (Jason Hsu) wrote in message
$10,000 would be professionally processed by a lawyer with a professional prior art search and the legal work. You may do it yourself and as an individual you pay a smaller fee than a corporate application. Check out USPTO.gov for specifics.
Prosecuting a violation of your patent can be very costly. But that doesn't mean that you won't realize a reward for your ingenuity. Sometimes you can find someone to license the art for a reasonable sum and seeing your invention being used by others might be satisfying in its own right.
Disclosure does not preclude you from obtaining a patent but the clock starts ticking as soon as you disclose and you then have 1 year to file for US. Once you disclose though you lose foreign protection. A provisional application is easier and cheaper and can provide some protection while you weigh your options but watch out for the disclosure and filing date requirements if you file a provisonal.
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