What Is a Patent?

A patent is a right granted by the United States under the provision of the Patent and Trademark Office that gives an inventor protection against others making, selling, or using an invention. In the U.S., patents last 14 years for design patents and 17 years for typical patents. After a patent expires, any person can sell, manufacture, or use the invention without permission.

Types of Patents

There are several types of patents. Utility patents are for people who invent or discover a new process, machine, an object of manufacture, combinations of matter, or any design improvement. Design patents are for people who invent an original, decorative design for an object of manufacture. Plant patents are for those who create or discover and asexually recreates a new kind of plant.

Patent Law

The law grants that an inventor can apply for a patent on:

  • Any original and useful art
  • A machine
  • An object of manufacture
  • A process
  • Compositions of matter
  • Functional improvements on existing devices
  • New types of asexually reproduced plants
  • Any decorative, original design for an object of manufacture

The inventor can get a patent if the invention wasn't known about or used in this country before. The invention cannot have already been patented or described in any form of printed media in the U.S. or any foreign country more than 12 months prior to the patent application date. The invention cannot have an abandoned patent.

Filing a Patent Without an Attorney

Many people have successfully filed a patent application without the help of an attorney. Usually, a more stringent, detailed patent is granted if a registered patent lawyer or agent helps with the application.

Federal law makes officials at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) help inventors applying for patents. To get a patent, inventors must ensure that their invention qualifies for a patent and must also describe every detail of their invention.

Protecting Inventions During Creation

During creation and design, inventors protect their inventions by doing the following:

  • Recording all aspects of the invention
  • Write down every step taken during creation
  • Describe each aspect in writing and diagrams
  • Record little changes made to the invention, including how ideas came to be
  • Build a prototype and test it; document both
  • Date and sign each record; have two witnesses do the same

Keeping detailed records helps protect inventions should someone try to steal it and makes the application process easier.

Protecting Inventions Before a Patent is Granted

Because of detailed record keeping, it's easy to file a Disclosure Document with the USPTO. These are inexpensive. Inventors should send in two copies of their Disclosure Document, so one copy is sent back once it's dated and numbered. Disclosures stay confidential for two years unless the patent application gets filed. If there's no application, the documents get destroyed.

Provisional patent applications (PPA) are not patent applications; they are applications for protection of patent rights until the patent is granted. Filing a PPA is cheaper, simpler, and quicker than filing for a regular patent. A PPA allows inventors to claim an invention as "patent pending."

Filing for a PPA requires the following:

  • Fees ranging from $65 to $260
  • Description of how the invention works
  • Simple diagrams of the invention

A PPA only keeps the invention protected for a year. Inventors must apply for a regular patent before the 12-month period is up. A PPA allows inventors to develop their invention further and evaluate their market before embarking on the full patent journey.

Search for Patents

Every inventor must complete an in-depth patent search, also known as a "Search of Prior Art," to ensure their invention is original. Inventors must research all previous inventions in their field. Inventors can search for previous patents through these channels:

  • United States patents
  • Patents in foreign countries
  • Technical, trade, and scientific journals
  • The internet
  • A Patent and Trademark Depository Library

The USPTO obtains copies of every U.S. patent and files of most foreign patents. Inventors will find volumes of technical, trade, and scientific journals at the USPTO. Public libraries in larger cities will have U.S. patent copies. Inventors should use Google's patent search (google.com/patents).

Since inventors know the most about their inventions, they are best people to start the research. Inventors will find similar inventions, but they'll know the differences and can describe the differences easily.

To guaranty a patent search is accurate and high-quality, it's best to hire a patent lawyer or agent. Agents should be registered with the U.S. Patent Office.

Regular Patent Application

Once a regular patent application (RPA) is approved, protection lasts for 14 to 20 years. To file for an RPA, inventors must:

  • Demonstrate the invention's manufacturing process
  • Explain how the invention is unique
  • Explain what invention parts need to be patented and why

The RPA process takes quite a bit more time than a PPA because the USPTO completes an extensive examination of the invention. Inventors can expect to spend about $1,500 to file. This doesn't include fees for a patent lawyer or any professional patent diagrams.

Patent applications have several parts including:

  • An identification
  • Filing fee
  • An Oath
  • Diagrams when possible

The identification must be in writing and include a description of an invention that concludes with claims indicating what the inventor thinks is his invention. Diagrams must meet Patent Office standards and rules. The Patent Office can make diagrams for no fee when facilities exist. The office does expect that inventors will include their personal, formal diagrams most of the time. Once the application is finished, the Patent Office gives the application a serial number and a filing date. These indicate the application is accepted for examination.

About Patent Attorneys and Agents

Inventors can find patent professionals by using the directory published by the U.S. Patent Office titled "Attorneys and Agents Registered to Practice Before the U.S. Patent Office." If a lawyer or an agent isn't registered, she cannot represent an inventor during an application. Patent law groups have listings of lawyers and agents, as well as, local phone books.

The U.S. Patent Office doesn't control fees charged by patent lawyers and agents. Many charge based on the time spent on preparing, filing, and prosecuting an application. Total fees depend on the type of invention and complexity of prosecuting after the Patent Office finishes the examination.

If you need help filing any type of patent in New York, post your legal need on UpCounsel today. Our qualified team of lawyers hail from Harvard and Yale Law Schools and have an average of 14 years' experience.