FAQs

Q. What is a patent and why do I need one?

A. If you've invented an object, developed, or enhanced a product, or invented a solution to a process, a patent provides you with exclusive rights to that product or process.

Q. What type of patents are available?

A. There are three types of patents; utility, design, and plant. 

Q. I'm confused about ownership of a patent. How does that work?

A. When you have a patent, you as the owner, can prevent the selling, using, or manufacturing of the invention by others.

Q. What does it mean when for a patent to be unobvious?

A. Every patent must meet certain criteria set by the USPTO. The invention must be considered unobvious by persons who have an understanding of the category/class applicable to the patent. Whether a patent is obvious or unobvious can usually be determined by a patent attorney. 

Q. Can I just apply for a patent on an idea I think would work?

A. No. In order for the USPTO to grant a patent, technical information must be provided for a patent application. This information becomes available to the public. 

Q. Is it possible to get a patent without it becoming public knowledge?

A. No. When applying for a patent, you are agreeing to full disclosure, which means all the details involved with the invention are published and become available to anyone. 

Pros

  • When you have a patent, you hold exclusive rights to the invention, which protects it from being used, sold, or reproduced by anyone. 
  • As the patent holder, you have the right to sell the invention to whomever you choose. Once the sale is completed, the new owner becomes the patent holder. 
  • Alternatively, the patent holder may permit, or license, the use of the invention by others once usage terms are agreed upon.

Cons

  • Currently, there is no option for obtaining an international or world patent. You must file separately for each country or region. 
  • Be aware that along with the initial filing fees and any other expenses, such as a patent attorney, you will also be responsible for the annual cost of fees for maintenance and/or renewal.
  • For patents filed abroad, you may be required to use local patent attorneys since you'll be considered a foreign applicant. 

Steps to Determine if an Invention is Patentable

For an invention to be patentable in the United States, it must meet the requirements in four areas. These include:

  • There are five "statutory classes" an invention must be relevant to; processes, machines, manufactures, compositions of matter, new uses of these four classes.
  • The invention must be considered useful. It cannot be a theoretical idea. 
  • The invention must be fresh and new and something that has not been previously done.
  • One of the most difficult steps is classifying the invention as "unobvious." What this means to the applicant is the invention itself must not be something that stands out or is "obvious" to a person who has regular knowledge about the subject.
  • If you are considering a patent but haven't decided if you want or need patent protection, you can apply for what is known as a provisional patent. This type of patent is temporary for one year from the date of filing and, while in effect, provides protection against someone else filing an application for the same invention. 

Deadline

When you apply for and are approved for a patent, it comes with an expiration date. While the patent is in effect, it is protected from use by others. Once it expires, the invention becomes part of the public domain, which makes it available to someone else without the new person infringing on the previous patent. 

A utility patent generally has a 20-year period of protection from the date the application is filed. 

Plant and design patents have different terms. A design patent has a 14-year term, and a plant patent has a 17-year term.

If you need help with a patent, 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.