You’ve created an incredible product with the potential to change the world, and now you’re ready to apply for a patent. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the U.S. patent application process can be complex and expensive. By understanding everything you need to know about patents in advance, you can minimize potential difficulties and streamline the process as much as possible.
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What Are the Three Types of Patents, and What Do They Cover?
A patent is a legal document that grants intellectual property rights to inventors. Issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), these documents don’t guarantee inventors the right to sell their inventions; they only prevent others from manufacturing or selling the same products. The USPTO grants inventors three types of patents:
The most commonly issued type, a utility patent is given to those who invent machines, processes, improvements or articles made from a manufacturing process. In addition to mechanical inventions, an inventor may seek a utility patent for a new type of software, computer hardware or even a pharmaceutical.
Design patents protect ornamental designs or appearances of items to visual elements that don’t affect the actual function of the item. Inventors might seek patents for designs on jewelry, furniture and even wine bottles.
Yes, even plants can be patented, but only those plants that are invented by combining existing plants that can then reproduce asexually. When individuals secure plant patents, other inventors can’t create or profit from the same plants within a period of 20 years from the application date. It should also be noted that you can’t get a patent on a naturally-occuring plant.
What Can and Cannot Be Patented?
Under U.S. law, individuals can seek patents for “…any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof…” Here, the term “process” typically refers to industrial and technical processes, and “composition of matter” refers to chemical compounds and mixtures.
That said, inventors cannot seek patents for natural laws, physical phenomena and abstract ideas. For example, a scientist who discovered a new plant or animal species could not file a patent, though someone who engineered a new type of plant or animal would be able to file. Additionally, individuals can only patent new inventions.
Before applying for a patent, you must research other developments in your industry and search current U.S. patents as well as scientific journals to make sure your item doesn’t already exist or isn’t already patented.
How Long Does a Patent Last?
In most cases, a U.S. utility or plant patent lasts 20 years from the date on which its inventor filed the patent. However, a design patent is valid for just 14 years. Filers should note that the validity of their patents is subject to maintenance fees being paid in full.
How Are Patents Policed?
While securing a patent technically prohibits others from making money off your hard work, enforcing your claims according to these laws can prove somewhat more complex. “Policing” refers to the practice of a patent owner that conducts his or her own searching for those who are copying his or her item, and then enforcing his or her patent rights.
Companies like MarkMonitor offer assistance for individuals and businesses looking to protect their brands. Using patented detection technology, MarkMonitor can locate abuses on B2B exchanges, eCommerce sites, paid search and more.
What Should I Do if Someone Violates My Patent?
If an individual is manufacturing, offering or making money off your item, he or she is committing patent infringement. In many cases, patent holders have to sue counterfeiters who attempt to profit off their products in federal district court. Along with requesting an injunction to stop the counterfeiter from selling additional items, you can ask for damages and royalties based on past sales.
How Do I File for a Patent?
Filing for a patent can be a lengthy and expensive process. In fact, to secure a patent, you must pay basic fees, search fees, examination fees and issue fees. If you hire an attorney to assist you with the application, expect to pay those fees too. Depending on the complexity of your invention, the cost of a patent can range in the thousands of dollars.
Independent inventors and small businesses should note that fees are reduced for those who claim small entity status. If you’re thinking of applying for a patent this year, you might want to see if you quality for this discount.
Once your finances are in order, you can visit the USPTO resource center for specific information about patent rules and procedures. Additionally, the site experts can assist filers with locating and filling out the necessary forms. It’s important to note that the USPTO cannot provide legal advice or give counsel on whether an invention is patentable. When you’re ready to begin the application process, you can visit this page for a list of required fees and documents.
In most cases, you will need to supply an abstract, background, summary and detailed description, as well as a conclusion that discusses the long-term advantages and ramifications of your invention.
If you have a great idea, don’t hesitate to apply for a patent with the USPTO. Do your due diligence now to ensure no one else gets credit for your hard work down the line.
Information may be abridged and therefore incomplete. This document/information does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for, legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.