What is a Patent?
The United States constitution provides a particularly useful patent definition: “[Congress shall have power] 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.” Another patent definition is that patents are public-private partnerships where inventors share their discoveries in exchange for a monopolies from the US Patent Office that, under current laws, lasts for 20 years.
Patents specifically protect inventions and innovations. If you have an idea for a physical invention or a new process, it has value to you because it has the potential for you to make money. That’s also true, however, for anyone who has the desire to make a profit from your idea.
This is why patents work. For example, pharmaceutical companies, for example, spend the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to invent and then safely bring life-saving drugs to the market because they know that they will make billions in revenue during the life of a patent. Then, after the patent expires, the entire World has access to cheap generic versions of the drug. When it works the way it’s supposed to it’s a win-win.
How Does a Patent Protect Your Invention?
Once you’ve submitted a patent application to the USPTO for review, your application is“patent pending.”
That gives you priority over anyone else who tries to implement your idea. If your patent pending becomes a registered patent, it also means that you can sue damages that accrued after the application date of the application filing. It also means that another inventor with the same idea or concept can’t come after you and get a patent for your invention.
If someone tries to steal or use your patented invention, a U.S. patent lawyer can file an injunction and pursue damages from the violator.
What Can You patent?
You can patent anything under the sun- so long as the idea is novel, non-obvious and useful. With respect to utility patents, the most common type of patent, your invention must be a:
- Process: A mode of treatment of certain materials to produce a given result. It is an act, or a series of acts, performed upon the subject-matter to be transformed and reduced to a different state or thing;
- Machine: A concrete thing, consisting of parts, or of certain devices and combination of devices;
- Manufacture: A tangible article that is given a new form, quality, property, or combination through man-made or artificial means; or
- Composition: A combination of two or more substances and includes all composite articles.
Your invention must also be novel, or new, meaning that it is not covered under an existing patent.
What Can’t You Patent?
Abstract Ideas – Because courts recognize that the availability of basic concepts are important to the furtherance of knowledge and invention, inventors may not invent an abstract idea. Inventors can, however, patent an application of an abstract idea. For example, no one can obtain a patent for space travel, but they can get a patent for a particular type of rocket.
Laws of Nature and Natural Phenomena – As is the case with abstract ideas, the USPTO does not issue patents for the laws of nature, natural phenomena, or the products of nature. Natural occurrences, like light, sound, and gravity can’t be the subjects of a patent application, but flashlights, speakers, and jet packs can.
Before You Apply For a Patent
Document Your Invention – While you’re developing your invention and preparing your application for patent, you should keep meticulous records and make certain that they are in a secure location. This could be vital for if there are any future court challenges to your patent.
Make Sure Your Invention Qualifies – Your invention must be new, useful, and not obvious to members of the general public. If you have any concerns about this, you should consult a U.S. patent attorney.
Do a Patent Search – It’s important that you don’t expend time, energy, and money trying to get a patent for something that’s already protected under the law. Patent research can be time-consuming, but it will also save you time and possibly professional embarrassment before the application process. More importantly, even if a similar patent exists, your invention may still be patentable if you modify it to make it significantly different.
How to Obtain a Patent
The USPTO outlines the steps that your patent application goes through before it can be approved and you receive a patent. The good news is that unless your patent is eventually rejected, your invention is protected from the point that it comes under review.
Prior Art – Before the Patent Office can move forward with your application, the examiner will review both approved and abandoned third party applications. If your invention matches this “prior art,” it will be ineligible for patent.
Points of Novelty – In order to obtain a patent, the description of your invention must be both novel and distinct. Without examining the points of novelty, the USPTO would be issuing patents for wide categories of products, which could make pursuing claims problematic. In addition, the patent examiner must have a clear understanding of what your invention does and how it is different from existing inventions.
Enablement Requirement – Your invention has to be something that someone “skilled in the art” can make and use. This caveat ensures that the invention can be communicated to the public in a meaningful way.
Your Role in the Process
You don’t necessarily have to be an inventor to obtain a patent. The law recognizes several categories of applicants:
- Inventor – The inventor can be a person, team, or a corporation, but the inventor is the entity responsible for the creation of the invention;
- Owner – The inventor doesn’t automatically own the right to the product or patent. In many cases, an inventor is working for an employer who legally has the right to anything invented by that employee;
- Client – If the inventor is in the employment of the client, the client will generally have contractual ownership of the invention if it’s within the scope of that legal arrangement.
Maintaining a Patent Over Time
Registered patents must renewed, with a maintenance fee, at four, eight, and twelve years after registration. You can pay six months before the expiration date to renew your patent, but if you allow your patent to expire, your invention will be abandoned and unprotected unless and until your patent is reinstatement.
Overseas Patent Protection
Depending on the type of product and the scope of the market you’re envisioning, you may require patent protection in non-U.S. markets.
Unfortunately, a U.S. patent only protects you in the United States and the territories it has jurisdiction over. That may not be sufficient to protect your intellectual property.
If you have further questions about an overseas patent then contact us at 844-728-3680 or book your appointment to receive your free 30 minute consultation and one of our attorneys will gladly help you.