Patents are granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) through the patent application process. They give an inventor the exclusive right to make, use, or offer for sale their invention for a limited period of time. In order to file for a patent, the inventor must make a detailed public disclosure of the invention. Patents filed after June 8, 1995, are granted for a period of 20 years.
Types of patents
There are a variety of different patent types:
Utility Patents protect the functional features of an invention. This is the most common type of patent, and generally the type of patent one would describe as an "invention." Utility patents are granted for inventions that discover any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter. A utility patent can also be granted for an improvement on a previously existing product. Utility patents can provide broader patent protection because they allow the inventor to protect the inventive concept, not just a single variation.
Design Patents are granted for a new and original ornamental appearance of an article. An ornamental appearance can be a pattern on the face of an item, the shape of the item, or any other aspect of the invention that isn't dictated by its function. Design patents only protect the appearance of the invention, not the functional features. This is a key difference between design patents and utility patents. Design patents provide less protection than utility patents because competitors can easily design around the patent by changing the overall look of their competing product.
Plant Patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.
Novelty is a requirement for any newly granted patent. An invention is not new, and therefore cannot be granted patent protection, if it was known to the public before the patent application is filed. The purpose of the novelty requirement is to prevent prior art (i.e., information that has already been made available to the public) from being protected by patent rights.
Inventors and investors alike are strongly encouraged to do a full patent search to see if a patent has already been filed or granted prior to investing time and resources in formally doing a patent application.
Patents can most easily be searched through either the USPTO's database or Google Patents.
Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or substitute for the advice of a lawyer.
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