Intellectual Property

The Patent Process

People have great ideas everyday, and the legal term describing these creations is intellectual property (IP). Inventions are a type of IP, and patents are used to protect the rights of inventors and others.

Be familiar with the steps in obtaining a patent and how patent rights benefit you as an intellectual proepty owner before unveiling your new creation to the world.

Definining a Patent and Its Protection

A patent consists of exclusive rights granted by the federal government to the inventor of new and useful machines, articles, substances or processes. It gives the inventor the right to stop others from using, making and selling the invention without permission.

Patent protection is an incentive for invention. You're assured you have the chance to profit from your mind's work. the law provides protections and remedies if someone violates your patent rights, called infringement.

The federal government issues patents after inventors complete the application process. A patent usually lasts for 20 years from the application filng date.

When a patent is granted, the government publishes a full description of the invention and its use so that anyone and everyone can see it.

Patent Applications

Patents are only issued after you complete the application process established by the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO). The application must fully describe and explain the invention and set out the limits of the technology you're claiming in the invention.

Patent examiners, who have technical training in many different fields, are assigned to review applications within their particular fields of specialty. The object of an examiner's search is to see if the same or similar technology has already been claimed in a patent or publicly disclosed in other types of publications.

An examiner can object to your application. In response, you can:

  • Fix or "amend" the claims of the application to satisfy the objections
  • Try to convince the examiner that the application satisfies the patent law
  • Start an appeals process

Preparing a Patent Application

Drafting successful patent applications requires not only an understanding of patent law, but also knowledge of the technology being described and claimed. For this reason, patent agents and attorneys must have scientific or engineering training. It's almost always a good idea to get help from an experienced patent attorney when preparing your application.

Scope of a Patent

As in copyright cases, there is no such thing as a worldwide patent. Successful applications to the USPTO result in patents that are good only in the US. If you want patent protection in other countries, you must apply for a patent in the patent office of each country. However, you may be able to stop others from importing goods or products into the US that infringe on your patent rights.

Time Period for Applying for a Patent

Inventors must be extremely careful about their activities prior to applying for a patent. The USPTO gives an inventor a one-year grace period after an invention has been publicly disclosed to apply for a patent. The clock on this grace period starts running when you:

  • Place the invention on sale
  • Publish a description of the invention
  • Offer a detailed description of the invention at a public meeting
  • Place the invention into the hands of the public

If you don't apply for a patent within a year of public disclosure, you lose the chance to get a patent forever.

Priority of Invention

When two inventors develop identical inventions at about the same time, most countries will grant a patent for such an invention to the inventor who files their application first. The US may allow a later applicant to prove that he or she made the invention before the first applicant.

USPTO proceedings to determine priority of invention are called interferences. These proceedings are complicated legal contests, similar to lawsuits, and may take years to resolve.

Employee Inventors

US law requires that a patent bear the name of the inventor of the claimed invention. Sometimes an employer may agree to share royalties with an employee, or offer a bonus or other reward in exchange for the assignment of the rights in the patent to the employer. However, no matter what type of arrangement the inventor has with the employer, the employer's name can't be substituted for that of the inventor on the patent.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • How much will you charge me to help get a patent?
  • Can I reapply for a new patent after 20 years?
  • If I sell my patent to a company, does that mean I can't use the patent at all?
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