What Are Patents?
Patents are issued by the USPTO to grant the inventor the right to the property, typically for 20 years from the patent filing date. The patent protects the inventor from others who could benefit from the property by making, using, selling, importing, or exporting it.
There are three types of patents:
- Utility patents are issued for a new and useful process, such as software, a machine, such as an engine or computer hardware, an article of manufacture, such as a screwdriver or candelabra, or composition of matter, such as a new medication. Utility patents may also be issued for any new or useful improvement to anything in this category.
- Design patents are issued for new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture, such as a new emoji, a new way to package products, or the curved design of the Coca-Cola bottle.
- Plant patents are issued for inventions and discoveries in asexual reproduction of a distinct and new variety of plant, such as a new strain of wheat or new cultivar of an African violet.
What Can I Patent?
To identify what can be patented may be best done by describing what cannot be patented. The terms “new” and “useful” in federal statute are key to what can be patented.
Ideas and suggestions in the abstract cannot be patented. The concept of a new software program cannot be patented; however, the developed program can be. The Coca-Cola bottle had to be manufactured before its design could be patented. A physics theory cannot be patented; however, the unique application of a theory can be. The theoretical concept of a better mousetrap cannot be patented, but the actual mousetrap can be. Furthermore, patented items must be useful. The invention of a new machine that does not actually work cannot be patented because it is not useful.
What Are the Benefits of Obtaining a Patent?
A patent prohibits those other than the inventor from profiting from their creation for a period of time. During that time, the inventor controls licensure of the patented items, and the sale and distribution of them.
What Is Involved in the Patent Process?
The USPTO describes eight major steps in the patent process:
- Determine the intellectual property protection you need
- Determine whether your invention is patentable
- Determine which type of patent you should apply for
- Take steps to prepare what you will need to complete the application
- Prepare and submit your application to the USPTO
- Work with the USPTO examiner assigned to your application, which may include providing additional information
- Obtain your patent if approved
- Maintain your patent over time
How Can a Patent Attorney Help Me?
A patent attorney can make the difference between approval and denial of your patent application. Your patent attorney will coordinate with an engineer and draftsman to represent your invention in CAD, and to write that application including a detailed engineering and legal description.
Your attorney will guide you throughout the application and review process, helping you supplement and adjust as required. Your attorney will also help you maintain your patent, so you do not have to worry about keeping it active. Furthermore, your attorney will legally enforce your patent should other businesses attempt to infringe on your proprietary and exclusive right to profit from it.