The patent process actually starts well before you file a patent application or seek assistance from a patent attorney. Every patent application starts with an invention, and every invention starts with an idea. While ideas are not patentable, there will be a point in time when the idea you are working on comes so into focus  with enough detail that it will cross the idea / invention boundary.  It is when an idea matures to the point of being concrete and tangible enough to be described to another that the idea has become an invention, at least in general terms.

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