The patent questions and answers listed here will help anyone hoping to learn more about patents.

A patent is a form of legal protection of intellectual property. Along with other protections, such as copyrights and trademarks, patents allow entrepreneurs, inventors, and innovators to benefit financially or professionally from their creations and inventions.

What is the Process of Obtaining a Patent in the United States?

In the United States, after an inventor files a successful patent application, a patent is granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The patent obtained is an exclusive right; others may not make, use, sell, offer for sale, or import the invention or process for a specific time period.

Outside of the U.S., What Regional Offices Grant Patents?

Other countries around the world are covered by regional patent offices:

• African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI)
• African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO)
• Eurasian Patent Organization (EAPO)
• European Patent Office (EPO)
• Patent Office of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC Patent Office)

Do Worldwide Patents Exist?

There is no such thing as a "worldwide patent." Patent applications must be filed with each national patent office. Some individual nations are covered under some regional patent offices, such as EPO and the ARIPO, making it unnecessary to go through each member nations' patent office. Depending on the countries involved, an applicant might obtain patent protection in multiple states via the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).

What Are the Requirements for a Successful Patent Application?

  • The invention must be novel. In other words, it must incorporate some new quality which is not part of the "prior art." Prior art is the state of the technology as it exists before the birth of the invention or process.
  • The inventor must have taken an "inventive or non-obvious step" in coming up with a new invention or process. In other words, a person of baseline knowledge and skill in the related field of technology could not have deduced such an invention or process.
  • The invention must have an industrial application. In other words, it must have a practical purpose beyond the theoretical.
  • The invention or process must not be barred as unpatentable under law. In different countries around the world, scientific theories, aesthetic creations, mathematical methods, plant or animal varieties, discoveries of natural substances, commercial methods, methods for medical treatment (as opposed to medical products) or computer programs are generally not patentable.
  • The application must be clear and complete enough to enable replication by an individual with baseline skill in the relevant technical field.

What is Patent Information?

Patent information is content included in patent applications and granted patents. The information will include the inventor's or applicant's bibliographic data, information about the invention itself, background about the technological trends pertaining to the invention, and a description of the breadth of patent protection requested by the applicant.

The information contained in a patent application serves a broader public good—that of providing the public with knowledge about technological developments. It is in the public interest to facilitate the continuing progress of technology. Information in a patent application supports this technological growth.

How Can an Entrepreneur, Inventor, or Interested Citizen Find Patent Information?

A search of the World Intellectual Property Organizations's (WIPO) PATENTSCOPE database will turn up applications under the PCT, as well as provide documents of participating international and regional patent offices.

The searches are free, but some level of expertise is necessary in order to fully utilize the search capabilities of the WIPO's database in finding specific patents and in interpreting and analyzing the results of a search.

What is Patent Infringement?

To infringe a patent is to have made, sold or offered for sale an invention covered by a valid patent, and to do so without the patent holder's authorization.

How Does A Patent Holder Enforce Their Patent?

It is incumbent upon the patent holder to monitor, identify, and take action against patent infringers. A court of law will enforce the patent, but only when the patent holder files a lawsuit against the infringer. There is no automatic trigger of enforcement action.

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