Define Patents

To define patents is to understand the process of obtaining a patent. Generally, in the U.S., a patent is an exclusive right granted to an inventor by the United States government. The inventor can then use, sell, license or manufacture the invention for a certain time period. Essentially, it is the conferring of a privilege or right.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the arm of the United States government who handles the granting of patents. A patent is considered a property right to an invention that may or may not have monetary value. Patent law in the U. S. is centered around statutes in Title 35 of the U.S. Code.

What’s a Patent?

The function of a patent is to prevent others (other than the patent holder) from using, selling, licensing, or manufacturing a specific invention within the United States. Sometimes, you may see terms like “patent pending.” This means that the inventor of the product has filed an application on the invention but that the patent has not yet been granted to the inventor. During this “patent pending” time period, the inventor does not enjoy any of the protections that is granted with the patent.

Who Can Apply for a Patent?

Generally, only the inventor may successfully fill out an application for a patent, however, there are exceptions.

Inventors may agree that other may sell or manufacture their inventions in exchange for money or services. Once a patent is granted, of course, the inventor may license his invention to others in exchange for royalties (generally some percentage of the profit). Due to their being personal property, patents may be sold, transferred or otherwise assigned like any other personal property. Read this if you’re wondering if you need a patent attorney or agent.

The law gets a little murky when the inventor is working for a company. If the patented invention or discovery is produced while the inventor is engaged in his duties at work, utilizing company materials in the course of his work-day, then the company is entitled to the property of the patent. In order to assure that employees know and agree to this, often employers will take the added step of signing a contract that ensures any patents are assigned to their employer.

What Protections Does a Patent Confer?

Protection of patents is the reason that people bother to apply for them. If a patent is not applied for and the inventor puts the invention into public use, then there are no protections available. Others may copy the invention and use it for their own profit. The patent application and granting process encourages inventors to make things that help society by allowing them to protect the invention from others who may wish to profit without compensating them.

Inventors can enforce their personal property rights by suing others for patent infringement in federal court, if they’ve used the patented invention without express permission. There are no federal agents assigned to patent protection. Therefore, the finding, identifying, and suing individuals or companies guilty of patent infringement is up to the patent holder.

Notably, even individuals who are unaware of their infringement on a patent’s intellection property are prevented from using the invention, as long as the patent holder must find the individuals, sue them and exercise their property rights.

What Type of Patent?

There are three kinds of patents: design, plant, and utility.

  • Utility patents are for the invention of (or even the discovery of) a new process, a new composition of matter, an article of manufacture, or an improvement in any of these things.
  • Plant patents are for the discovery or invention of a new plant.
  • Design patents are generally limited to new designs for an article of manufacture.

After careful consideration, an inventor may decide to license the invention to a third party. It’s then that the inventor needs to start shopping for manufacturers who possess strong distribution skills.

There are several ways to find reputable manufacturers. One popular way is to do an online search for products that are similar or are related to your invention. These manufacturers can also be found through trade shows, stores or even trade publications for similar products. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will charge you a fee to publish a notice that your patent is available for licensing agreements.

If you need help with a patent or patent licensing, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law, and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with, or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.