Updated November 3, 2020:

A patent inventor name order may only be submitted by individuals. Private sponsors, universities, and funding agencies are not allowed to apply for a patent. However, if they are an assignee to the patent, they may have the right to ownership.

Inventorship Versus Authorship

Many scientists are recognized for their hard work by being included in the authorship of a scientific publication. However, in cases where their revelations result in unobvious, useful, and novel discoveries, scientists will seek to protect their intellectual property by registering a patent. Authorship is subjectively determined, while inventorship is legally designated.

Authors are usually added to scientific publications because they made a substantial contribution to the findings, or for professional courtesy. On the other hand, inventors are listed on a patent in order to determine the legality of the registration of the patent. For example, there are serious ramifications for not including the correct name(s) of the inventor(s), including deeming it invalid. There are a number of elements that must be included when submitting an application to register a patent.

  • Abstract: Synopsis of the patented invention, process, design, or substance.
  • Specifications: Details about the invention, including how it is different from earlier inventions.
  • Background: Explains how the invention is genuine.
  • Claims: A short and clear statement of what the invention is.
  • Drawings: Visually demonstrates how the invention works.
  • Declarations: A declaration made by the inventor acknowledging that he was the first to invent the process, device, substance, or design.

An inventor is considered anyone that helped contribute to the conception of the invention. By law, an inventor is not considered someone who only contributes capital to the invention or someone whose only contribution is to reduce it to practice. For example, if an individual's only involvement was to prove that the invention works by carrying out tests without actually contributing to the concept, then that person wouldn't be considered the inventor. Nonetheless, he would most likely be included as a contributing author on any research resulting from the work.

Determining an inventor is done on a case-by-case basis. Remember, each co-inventor may not contribute to all of the claims. For example, if there are 10 different claims on an invention but one of the inventors only contributed to two of those claims, then he is still considered a co-inventor. Additionally, similar to a scientific publication, inventors don't have to work together and it can be a collaborative effort based on various institutions.

Order of Patent Inventors on a Patent Application

The way inventors' names are listed on patents and research publications will often vary. Additionally, there is always significance to the order. On a patent, the person who is named first is usually considered the primary contributor. However, the order on a patent application carries with it no legal consequence because all contributors are treated as co-inventors. In fact, the default format will be alphabetical unless a different order is requested in the application.

In a scientific publication, the order of the names dictates how significantly each individual contributed to the research. The assignment of the lead researcher can get politicized because that person will be considered the lead author going forward. The party that files the patent application will have the authority to determine the order of the names. Generally, the attorney who is preparing the application will be responsible for arbitrating the order. While the application is in a pending state, the order of names may still be changed. This is done by filing a new application data sheet.

Attorneys, companies, and agents all may have their own standard for how the name order is determined. For example, a university may insist that department chairs are listed first, followed by professors, assistants, adjunct professors, and then interns and students.

What Happens if the List of Inventors Is Incorrect?

As long as the mistake was made without deceptive intent and unknowingly, the list of inventors may be updated when it's being reviewed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or after it's been registered.

It's quite common for the list to be updated due to amendments to the application. For example, in cases where a co-inventor only contributed to one claim and that claim has been eliminated, then the inventor's name must be removed from the application in order to make the invention patentable.

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