The very most important first step an inventor must take is to carefully document their invention. Documentation is key in securing future rights to your clever new idea. The "paper trail" you create about your invention is extremely important and it needs to be kept in an organized, recognized format in order to be most useful and give you the best chance of successfully being granted a patent for your invention.
You will be creating an "Inventor's Logbook" that forms the basis of your claims of novelty and reduces your idea to practice, a legal term that roughly means being able to demonstrate that your invention actually works.
Your logbook will be like your invention diary. You should journal EVERYTHING you think about and do with your idea - features and functions you envision, who you talk to about the invention, what you do to develop it, etc. Your sketches should be kept in your Inventor's Logbook as well. The idea is to establish "first" or "primary" claim to the intellectual property your invention represents. By having all your writing, sketches, and even your messy scribbles carefully and methodically dated and annotated, it makes it much easier for you to establish when your idea was first conceived and that it was you who conceived of it.
Having set up and filled up your Inventor's Logbook, now you need to decide if the long waits, cost and hassle of obtaining a patent is worth it to you.
You need a very specific answer to a very specific question: Why do you want a patent? If the answer is "...so I'll be protected..." you still have some very important homework to do here on this site and you are clearly not ready for that step yet. This should not be considered a put-down. Before you plop down potentially thousands of dollars, you should know what you are paying for, right? Right...
If you find these things complicated or a complete newbie to patent, you should go for professional help. That could save your time, that you can use to make your invention better. It is recommended that to seek help from InventHelp, one of the most popular patent attorney firm, and you could learn how they can help you here: https://www.techtimes.com/articles/249715/20200518/how-inventhelp-gets-new-inventors-onto-the-right-path.htm and even they could help you turn your idea into a product and market it successfully as well, to learn more, read this article here: https://campuspress.yale.edu/tribune/inventhelp-gets-great-inventions-from-the-mind-to-the-market/
So, let's look at the 3 primary issues that you should consider when thinking about seeking a patent for your idea:
Market Potential: Have you done the necessary research to determine the true market potential for the idea? There are many types of useful, clever and marketable products with a fairly limited or local appeal that can make an entrepreneurial inventor a lot of money but might not be worth the effort to seek patent protection for.
Understand, a narrow or specific market focus doesn't automatically mean a product isn't worth the time and expense of obtaining a patent either. The intelligent inventor knows that there is a balance between what can be patented and what can be enforced effectively.
Licensing or Selling The Invention: When companies acquire the rights to inventions and new product ideas, they're actually acquiring your right to profit from the product. If you have not effectively established ownership or asserted those rights however, it is exceedingly more difficult to convince a company to invest in the idea. That said, many inventions require the refinement and assistance of the manufacturer to finalize the design specifications of the product and premature patent filings can hamper this elemental aspect of early product testing and development.
The use of non-disclosure/non-compete agreements can be very effective in protecting you ability to still make first claim of ownership, while keeping the product specs open to improvements that are discovered through testing and refinement.
Perceived Value: The more expensive the product is, the better a candidate it becomes for the investment necessary to obtain patent protection. A product that sells for $1.99 will take a lot longer to recoup patent expenses than a product that retails for $1,999 will.
The good news is that once a patent is granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and issued, you will have successfully become a patent holder and truly "own" your invention. The bad news is that this doesn't mean that you are now "protected". There are no "patent police" and no one is going to enforce your rights for you. Once you've obtained a patent, it's then up to YOU to defend your rights in court.
Obviously, this can be a very costly experience and the burden falls entirely on the patent holder to proved infringement. This is what we meant when we asked you why you wanted a patent.