Patent basics

Q. How do I obtain a patent?

A patent gives you, the inventor, rights to your invention. Patents are usually good for 20 years from the application date. According to the United States Patent and Trade Office (USPTO), a patent allows the inventor the “right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention in the United States or importing the invention into the United States.” Patents fall under the broad heading of protecting intellectual property.

What do patent pending and patent applied for mean?

These terms are used by a manufacturer or seller of an article to inform the public that an application for patent on that article is on file with the USPTO. The law imposes a fine on those who use these terms falsely to deceive the public.

If two or more people work together to create a product or invention, which one will be granted the patent?

If each had a share in the ideas forming the invention as defined in the claims, they are joint inventors and a patent will be issued to them jointly on the basis of a proper patent application.

If, on the other hand, one of these persons has provided all of the ideas of the invention, and the other has only followed instructions in making it, the person who contributed the ideas is the sole inventor and the patent application and patent shall be in his or her name alone.

What is a patent search?

If you have a product idea, it is wise to conduct a patent search before going very far. A proper patent search ensures that another invention close to the one you want to protect is not already patented. These searches will most likely cost a few hundred dollars and are commercially available through most patent law firms.

Next, determine which kind of patent you need

  1. Utility patents for the invention or discovery of a new process, machine, article/manufacture, compositions/matters or improvements.
  2. Design patents for the invention of new/ornamental/original manufactured article.
  3. Plant patents for the invention or discovery and asexual reproduction of a distinct/new plant variety.

The patent application

The last step is actually applying for the specific type of patent you need, which you can complete online or in hard copy.

Components of the application include:

Specification
The specification includes a written description of the invention, information on how to make and use the invention and the best method for carrying out the invention.

Claims
The specification is completed with a statement that distinctly claims the subject matter the applicant regards as the invention. The wording of the claim is important, because it defines the scope of patent protection.

Inventor’s declaration
The inventor makes and signs an oath or declaration indicating he believes he is the first and original inventor.

Drawings
Drawings must be filed if necessary to understand the invention. Forms, drawing specifications and other details are available at www.uspto.gov/web/patents/howtopat.htm.

Should I file the patent myself?

You can file your own patent application for some simple devices for less than $100, depending on the size of your company and the complexity of the invention, while a patent attorney or agent might charge many times that to file the same application. If the patent is allowed, you must also pay an issue fee of up to $1,510 and maintenance fees at 3.5 ($400), 7.5 ($900) and 11.5 ($1,850) years after the patent is issued, if you are considered a micro entity.

All fees were current at the time of publication. We strongly encourage you to check the latest USPTO fees.

If you are considering filing your own patent, be aware that most inventors fail. Simply being able to successfully get a patent does not mean you have done the job well. It is possible to file an application and create a patent that is weaker than might have been obtained by an experienced patent attorney or agent. Most people who try to write their own patents never really grasp the subtlety of patent claim language and most fail to negotiate successfully with the USPTO examiner.

If your idea is really valuable it is generally advisable to work with a patent attorney or patent agent to secure your patent rights.

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