A letters patent is given to an individual or corporate entity by the government when they are able to establish that they have created or discovered a new way to accomplish a specific task.

Letters Patent Definition

A letters patent occurs when the government assigns a title or specific rights to a private legal entity through certain legal means. Letters patents are legal measures that are used to grant exclusive rights to an invention to a person or corporate entity. They are given to the person or company in question by the government and afford them certain rights related to authorship and patents for new inventions and discoveries. A new invention must be able to provide a new method or solution to accomplish a specific task.

Letters patents are not sealed. They are open to the public and can be viewed at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Letters patents grant the rights to an invention to an individual or legal entity for a specific period of time. This period of time doesn't typically last for more than 20 years. Patents can also be referred to by the government as "licenses" and give holders exclusive rights to things like:  

  • Their innovative processes  
  • Designs  
  • Inventions  

It is worth noting that these rights only last for a certain period of time. "Letter patent" is a term that originates from the Latin phrase, "litterae patentes." They are official documents that grant exclusive rights to make and sell an invention. Letter patents eventually evolved to become the patents that are commonly used in modern business practices to grant exclusive rights to inventions. 

Forging a letter patent that has been given by the President of the United States is considered a federal offense and can result in significant fines and up to 10 years in prison.

Appealing a Letter Patent

Judges can appeal letter patent decisions to another judge in the same court. This is known as a Letter Patents Appeal or LPA. This is a measure that was originally established when the high courts were formed in India in 1865. A Letter Patents Appeal is the only way to fight the decision that has been made by a single judge regarding letter patents in the high court without taking the appeal to the Supreme Court. It is important to understand that it is possible for a single judge to make an incorrect ruling based on established laws and facts that are available to them.

In other words, before taking an appeal to the Supreme Court, the petitioning party has the option to take their appeal to another judge of the same court. In this way, they may be able to spare themselves the potential expense of appealing to the Supreme Court.

What Can Be Patented?

Things that might be eligible for what is known as a "utility patent" are new and useful:  

  • Processes  
  • Machines  
  • Manufacturing methods  
  • Compositions of matter  
  • Useful improvements on the items listed above

Design patents can be given for original, new, or ornamental designs for an item that is manufactured. A new type of manufacturing plant that is distinct from any other currently in existence and has been discovered, invented, or asexually reproduced can be eligible for what is known as a "plant patent."

It is important to note that some things can't be patented. This can include, but is not limited to:  

  • Laws of nature  
  • Physical phenomena  
  • Abstract ideas  
  • Mental processes  
  • Certain algorithms

While a patent application is pending in the United States, applicants are not to use words like "patent pending" in the name of the item they have petitioned to patent. Once the patent has been approved, however, the person or legal entity that has been granted the patent needs to use one of the following in the items name as a way of letting the public know that it is in fact patented:  

  • "Patented"  
  • "U.S. patent"

Navigating patents can be tricky if you're not familiar with the laws and regulations that handle them. If you're considering the possibility of applying for a patent, it may be in your best interest to seek assistance from a professional.

If you need help with letters 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, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.