It was Plato who said "necessity is the mother of invention." If you have a great invention idea that will fill a great need in our society then you're going to want to protect that idea. You're going to want to take these steps to go through the process of protecting your invention idea with a patent.
The first step in getting a patent for you invention idea is to write your idea down. Putting pen to paper is simple enough. By writing your idea down you'll be forced to define your invention, break down the invention to its core elements, and maybe think about variations you can add or change to the invention idea. Also the written material that you produce in this initial first step will be helpful in preparing the patent application for your invention idea.
An often overlooked and the second step is to conduct a patent search to figure out whether your invention is actually a novel and original idea. There are countless stories of inventors who went through the whole process of filing for a patent and even the production of their invention only to find out later there was already a patent on that idea. This could lead to you losing lots of money and even having legal actions filed against you.
The third step in the invention process is to decide whether you're going to file a provisional or nonprovisional patent application. There are distinct differences between these two invention patent applications. Provisional patent applications has a relatively inexpensive filing fee, but serves merely to "hold your place in line" at the patent office. If you do not file a nonprovisional application within a year then you may lose all your rights to the provisional application. Nonprovisional applications require more work. The claims of a patent application are set and it defines your legal rights to the invention.
The fourth step is to decide whether you're going to have a patent professional draft your application or if you're going to tackle it yourself. Having a professional work on the invention patent might be a good idea as they would typically produce higher quality work and come up with claims that the average person would miss.
The final and fifth step is to file your invention idea with the US Patent and Trademark office. You application will be examined. During the "patent pending" phase of your application you'll be free to sell or exploit your invention idea.
A patent for your invention can be the difference between you monetizing your idea or maybe even make your mark on history and somebody else taking credit for it. Who knows? Maybe you could be the next Thomas Edison.