A patent is the authority granted by the federal government to the inventor to sell or use it for a profitable purpose for a period of time.
What is a Patent, When Do You Need One, and How Do You File for One?
Ever had a path-breaking idea that you think you could change the world? Even though a lot of people have ideas, they never try to make it work or brush it off. You never know you could be making millions if you get your invention patented and it took off. Now, first-time inventors could rightly be confused with the jargon, definition, and processes to file a patent. Here’s a rundown of the what and how about patents.
What is a patent?
A patent is the authority granted by the federal government to an inventor to sell or use an invention for a profitable purpose for a period of time, normally between 14 to 20 years. During this time no one else can use it for their own profit without receiving prior permission and paying royalty fees.
If you own a patent, you can legally stop another person from using it. This encourages people to create useful inventions for the betterment of the society. The word “patent” is derived from the Latin word patere meaning “ to lay open.”
Patents are territorial, meaning for the same invention you would have to file a patent application in every country you want your patent protected. US patents are only protected in the United States.
What are the different types of patents?
There are primarily three main types of patents. They are as follows:
- Design patents: Rights to industrial designs are called design patents. Design patent applications are not very common and are relatively cheaper than utility patent protection. Design patents protect the appearance, though they don’t protect functional features.
- Utility patents: Utility patents are sometimes called petty or innovation patents. These can be further subdivided into software, biological, business and chemical patents. They are the most common type of patent application in the United States. They are more expensive to file but provide better protection.
- Plant patents: These patents are granted to the inventor of new plant species either by a hybrid method or through grafting or genetically modifying.
Does my invention qualify?
The three main criteria for having your patent application accepted are that it has to be novel, nonobvious and have some utility. They shouldn’t be in parts or a whole similar to previous patents or inventions. A patent also cannot be sold or used at least a year prior to when the patent application is being made.
Now, just because you invented it, doesn’t necessarily mean you can file a patent application. For example, if you were employed when you invented the patent, though it would be in your name, the rights to the patent would most probably be held by your employer. These should be spelled out in your terms of employment. If you did try to go around and use or sell the invention, your employer could bring a case against you for a breach of contract.
There are some areas where you can’t file for a patent. According to US laws, there are no patents offered for the following:
- Laws of nature
- Physical phenomenon
- Non-useful objects
- Abstract Ideas
- Furniture Design
If your idea touches each of these patent basics listed earlier, then you stand a good chance of your patent application being approved. Although going it all alone isn’t impossible, it’s a good idea to avail the services of a patent attorney. You will save yourself a lot of digging around, paperwork and hassles with an experienced team of patent lawyers.
How to file a patent?
Unlike copyright, that’s automatically entitled to the owner; an inventor has to apply for a patent to have it under his name and have it protected.
The first step is to file a patent application to the USPTO with an application fee. This fee will vary depending on the kind of patent you’re applying for. There will be additional fees required for search, examination, and issuance.
There are various factors that determine how long it will take to receive your first letter. You can check out estimated times on this link. There are options available to expedite your patent examination.
Without considerable knowledge of patent laws, it’s very easy to get embroiled. Most inventors use the services of a patent attorney. Proper filing of documents so that your patent application moves through the examination process and you receive your decision quicker is one of the many advantages of having legal representation for your patent.