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Common Misconceptions About Patents

Ream Law Firm, L.L.C. June 17, 2022

When people hear the word patent, images of inventors toiling away in their garage or basement come to mind as they try to build a better product that will make them wealthy for life. Patents, of course, do cover inventions, but they also protect designs and new forms of plants.

A patent for an invention is known as a utility patent. Utility patents represent 90 percent of all patents issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and they last for 20 years, as long as maintenance fees are paid.

Design patents, good for 14 or 15 years depending on the date of application, protect original, new, and ornamental designs for manufactured products. Plant patents last 20 years and cover the production, discovery, or invention of a new kind of plant capable of reproduction.

Beyond just understanding the scope and applicability of patents, many inventors and designers lack complete knowledge of the patenting process and share a lot of common myths. One myth is that a U.S. patent provides worldwide protection. It does not. Patents are country-specific. If you want to protect your invention or product worldwide, you’ll have to file for patent protection in countries where you expect competition or infringement.

If you have questions or need help with the U.S. patent system in or around the Kansas City, Missouri area, contact the Ream Law Firm, L.L.C. today. Attorney Dale J. Ream has been a practicing patent attorney for a quarter of a century and has helped hundreds file their patents, and has built up valuable professional relationships that can help in the development, manufacturing, and marketing of new inventions.

The Ream Law Firm, L.L.C. also proudly serves clients throughout the Kansas City Metro Area, including Johnson County, Kansas, and Jackson County, Missouri.

What Are Patents?

Patent protection derives from the U.S. Constitution and its clause protecting intellectual property: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." 

The first patent was issued on July 31, 1790, and signed by President George Washington. It went to Samuel Hopkins for a process to make potash, an ingredient in fertilizer. Since then, the U.S. has issued more than 11 million patents.

To see how patentable inventions and processes have changed over the decades, the 11 millionth patent was issued on May 11, 2021.

As mentioned above, patents cover not only inventions but also designs and new varieties of plants, though utility patents for inventions are by far the most utilized. Probably the most famous patent ever was for the lightbulb. Other patented inventions that have changed the world include the internal combustion engine, computer, phone, and bluetooth technology.

On a more everyday basis, the safety pin, the toothbrush, zipper, Post-It Notes, Velcro, and Tupperware are utility patents.

Patent Myths

Unless you’ve gone through the patent application process, you probably share some common myths with other inventors and designers. Among these myths are:

Myth #1: I Need to Build It Before I Patent It 

No, you don’t. What you need is a complete description along with drawings and illustrations. However, the details don’t have to be so minute or precise that a novice could come along and build the product from what you submit. Others in the same field, however, should be able to build it from your description and diagrams.

Myth #2: My Patent Must Match Exactly What I Have Designed

Patents generally disclose different variations, or embodiments, of the final product. When the product goes to market, one embodiment may be chosen as the best, but as time goes on, another embodiment may fit the needs of the users better.

Myth #3: I Can Keep My Invention Secret and Still Obtain a Patent

Not really. A patent becomes public. That’s the point of obtaining a patent. On the other hand, a trade secret, which is something you use in your business that you don’t want others to know about, requires a different type of protection. You must protect a trade secret – such as the formula for Coca-Cola – yourself.

Myth #4: After Obtaining My Patent, I am Guaranteed to Produce and Sell My Product

Many inventors and designers don’t have the resources staff-wise and finance-wise to take their product or design into production. Another aspect is that a patent doesn’t necessarily mean you have a monopoly. Competitors may file patents with improvements over yours.

Myth #5: Patents Protect My Invention Worldwide

Unfortunately, each country has its own patent system, and though your invention may be protected in the U.S. by a patent obtained here, there will be no protection if someone wants to copy your patent in Germany. However, there is a way to file for protection in some 140 countries with a single application through the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).

Myth #6: I Have a Great Idea, and I Need to Patent It

Not so fast; you cannot patent a mere idea. You can only patent something that can be built or used as a process. The patentable invention, process, design, or plant must be fully described and capable of being manufactured or utilized.

Myth #7: Patents are Only Helpful in a Legal Sense

Of course, patents offer broad protection against those who wish to infringe upon your invention, design, or plant variety, but holding patents also brings value to you and your business. Your patent portfolio can invite investors, and patents can also build up trust and following among your customers. They give a patina of authority to what you and your business are doing.

How a Patent Attorney Can Help

Filing for a patent may seem like a simple business – writing your description, backing it up with illustrations or charts and graphs, and sending it to the USPTO. Unfortunately, before you do that, you must carry out a patent search to see if your product, process, or invention has not already been patented. This can be time-consuming and expensive.

A patent attorney will have the resources to search for you and review your submission to ensure it covers all the bases for the USPTO. In addition, if you bring your patentable concept to The Ream Law Firm, L.L.C., Attorney Dale J. Ream has built up contacts throughout the years and can help you manufacture, market, and license your patent to others. You’ll have all the assistance you desire.

The Ream Law Firm, L.L.C. stands ready to help you with all your patent issues and questions and proudly serves clients in Kansas City, Missouri, and throughout Johnson County, Kansas, and Jackson County, Missouri.