Gun Patents

Gun patents are intellectual property rights issued to inventors of firearms. They are granted to prevent others from making and selling the patented guns for a limited time frame. Before applying for a gun patent, it is worthwhile to invest in a formal patentability search to ensure that the product can be patented.

What Is a Patent?

A patent refers to an intellectual property right that the United States government grants to an inventor to exclude other individuals or organizations from making, using, or selling the invention in the country or importing it into the country. This protection lasts for a limited time following the disclosure of the patented invention in public. Unlike a trademark or copyright, which is good indefinitely, a patent is valid for 17 years.

Three Forms of Patent

Patents are divided into three types:

  • Design patent — A patent that protects the unique shape and design of a product and applies to decorative and ornamental articles
  • Utility patent — A patent issued to an inventor of a product, machine, component, process, or improvement that serves a useful purpose
  • Plant patent — A patent for a new type of plant, such as hybrid tomato

How Are Patents Reviewed?

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is responsible for reviewing patent applications and deciding whether the inventions are legitimate. The department assigns the task of analyzing a patent application to a patent examiner. In order to determine whether a patent should be issued, the patent examiner will take several criteria into consideration. In the case of guns, the two main criteria are originality and the doctrine of obviousness.

While a formal patentability search may cost a couple of thousand dollars, it makes sense to invest in it before applying for a gun patent. In extreme cases, finding the lawsuit-winning “smoking gun” patent may be worth the many thousands of dollars incurred in using a search specialist. A gun patent search can provide answers to these important questions about gun patents:

  • What gun patents do competitors have?
  • Is the invention already patented?
  • Can the invention be patented?
  • What are the inventions listed under this category?

For a more thorough search, inventors can use the Google Advanced Patent Search. This search tool offers a significantly better interface than the USPTO site.

What Should You Do With the Patents You've Found?

After finding the patents, you have to know how to interpret them. To do so, you need to answer a few questions:

  • Is my new design an infringement of these patents?
  • Is my invention obvious compared to these patents?
  • Should I disclose these findings when I apply for a patent?
  • How do I understand the claims?

Increases in Gun Patents

The number of gun-related patents increased to a 35-year high in the United States in 2013. Out of the more than 6,000 gun-related patents granted since 1977, about 19 percent were issued between 2009 and 2013, with an all-time high of 370 issued in 2012. Also, background checks rose 58 percent from 2008 to 2012, reaching a record high of 19.6 million in 2012.

The increase in gun-related patents was partly due to a rise in demand for guns, as people rushed to expand their arsenals after President Obama and some state legislators made a push to tighten gun control regulations. Demand continued to rise after President Obama was re-elected in 2012 and soared following a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the Connecticut town of Newtown, which resulted in the deaths of 20 schoolchildren and six adults.  

10 Historic and Important Firearms Patents

  1. Gas-operated rifle by John Browning (No. 471,782)  
  2. Direct gas impingement mechanism by Eugene Stoner (No. 2,951,424)
  3. Detachable magazine by James Paris Lee (No. 221,328)
  4. Rotary barrel pistol by John Browning (No. 580,925)
  5. Rifle-loading device by Paul Mauser (No. 402,605)
  6. Self-loading rifle by John C. Garand (No. 1,892,141)
  7. Gun-operating cartridge by John D. Pedersen (No. 1,062,604)
  8. Tilting breechblock rifle by Dieudonne Saive (No. 2,515,315)
  9. Revolving firearm by Samuel Colt
  10. Silent firearm by Hiram Percy Maxim (No. 958,935)

Gun Safety Innovations

It has been argued that a profitable industry could evolve around gun safety devices. The Smart Tech Challenges Foundation, based in San Francisco, awards funding to projects that could increase firearm safety. Some of these projects help to avoid the theft of firearms and their later unsafe and illegal use.

If you need help with a gun patent application, 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, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.