If you want to protect your invention, you must file for a patent grant with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. A patent is much like a copyright in that it is a form of intellectual property law. However, while copyright protects works of original authorship, a patent protects the property rights of an invention.
When applying for a patent, include anything you believe will be helpful for a grant, from your invention's inception to its modifications and prototypes.
Different Types of Patents
A patent grants the right "to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” an invention or importing it from another country. It is up to the person who receives a patent to enforce it. In the United States, a patent is valid 20 years from the day of the filing of its application. It may even be valid from an earlier date if there was a related application filed. Patents are recognized only within the US, its territories and its possessions. If you wish to patent something, it may fall under one of the following categories.
- Utility patent: Granted to someone who invents or otherwise discovers a "new and useful process, a machine, an article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement."
- Design patent: Granted for new, original and ornamental designs of functional items.
- Plant patent: Anyone who "invents, discovers or asexually reproduces" a new type of plant.
Requirements for Your Patent
Your invention must be novel to receive a patent. To make sure you meet this requirement, you must research your invention and ensure that an already issued patent or patent application does not overlap with your invention. If you find another patent relevant in whole or in part to your invention, you must inform the USPTO. If you don't, you can lose the opportunity to apply or the USPTO may rescind your awarded patent.
How to Patent Something by Application
Patent applications can be challenging to fill out. Patent attorneys can help you with your application, but should you choose to apply without one, make sure your invention qualifies for a patent. If you were the creator or co-creator of the invention and if it is novel, useful and non-obvious, you will likely be able to patent it. Remember, a patent applies to tangible inventions only – you cannot patent an idea or concept.
Application fees will vary depending on the type of patent you require. However, you must pay search, examination and issue fees with every application. You may also need to pay excess claims fees. The USPTO reduces its payment requirements by half for smaller entities. Check its current fee schedule for rate information.
After Filing a Patent Application
After you submit your application, a patent examiner reviews it, searches for any overlaps with other patents and voices objections or rejections. It is up to the patentee to respond to those concerns and demonstrate that the invention meets the needed requirements. There may be many conversations with the patent officer in determining a patent's outcome.
The process of awarding a patent grant can be lengthy. In some instances, it takes several years. When the USPTO deems an invention patentable, it sends a Notice of Allowability to the inventor, which may include a final request for application changes. After payment of the issuance fee, the USPTO assigns a patent number and grants the inventor the patent.
If you have a utility patent, you must pay maintenance fees to maintain it. They are due 3.5, 7.5 and 11.5 years from the date of the initial patent award. As with many patent-related fees, the USPTO reduces its maintenance fees by half for smaller entities.