Product patents are exclusive rights granted for inventions, which are products or processes that provide new ways to complete tasks or technical solutions to problems. To apply for product patents, you'll need to disclose technical information about your invention to the public with a patent application. Lawyers call a patent a negative right because it lets you keep others from using, making, or selling your work. That way, you can enter your idea or product into the marketplace with assurances that others won't try to claim the profits from your work. However, a patent doesn't provide a guarantee.

Patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office are only enforceable within the United States. They cover imported goods, but countries with weak patent laws often flood the market with knockoff products.

Types of Patents

Three types of patents are available: 

  • Utility patents for function.
  • Design patents for aesthetics.
  • Plant patents for specialized breeds of plants or genetically engineered varieties. 

Most utility patent applications cost about $10,000 to prepare, but they can be more costly if the concept is complex and your application needs to be longer. 

Patent Pending Products

After you file, your application is patent pending. Your intellectual property is protected, but the patent office could contest some of your claims. Many applications, also called patent prosecutions, stay in the patent pending stage for about three years. Make sure you have a skilled patent attorney to help you keep your legal costs low and get your patent granted as soon as possible. 

Terms and Licensing 

You should study the marketplace to make sure that your invention is unique and to avoid infringing on someone else's intellectual property. Utility patents expire 20 years after filing, and not every patent leads to a new product. When a patent expires, the invention enters the public domain, which means that anyone can use it or profit from it. Patent owners can give others permission, also called licensing, to use their inventions with mutually negotiated terms. People can sell the rights to their inventions as well, making someone else the new owner of their patents.

Which Inventions Can Be Patented?

Inventions in all fields of technology, from everyday kitchen utensils to microscopic robots, are eligible for patents. Products like chemical compounds or processes for producing specific products can be inventions that get patents. Many products combine several different designs.

Are Patents Valid in Every Country?

Not every patent is valid in every country because patents are territorial rights. They're only enforceable in the country or region where they were granted.

Patent Enforcement

The patent owner usually takes legal action against the infringer. It's the owner's responsibility to monitor and identify any infringers of their patents.

Why Patents Are Useful

Patents let inventors get recognition for their creativity and protect them from intellectual property theft. Since all patents and patent applications are published, they spread knowledge and accelerate innovation by letting people avoid reinventing useful parts or processes. However, anyone who uses the technical expertise in a patent to create another invention must get permission from the first inventor. The new inventor will receive limited exclusive rights to use the existing idea. Without these rights, he or she will need to find a new way to solve the problem that the invention takes care of. 

The Requirements for Patent Protection

Inventions must exhibit novelty, new characteristics that aren't part of existing knowledge, also called prior art. Inventive or nonobvious steps are also required. A person with ordinary skills in your field shouldn't be able to figure out the steps easily. Your invention must be capable of industrial applications or be useful in another way, and you should have enough information in your application to let a professional with an ordinary skill level replicate it. However, artistic creations, scientific theories, mathematical methods, natural substances, plant or animal varieties, commercial or medical methods, or computer programs aren't patentable in many countries.

Granting Patents

In many countries, a national or regional patent office grants patents. The regional patent offices in operation are:
• The African Intellectual Property Organization or OAPI.
• The African Regional Intellectual Property Organization or ARIPO. 

• The Eurasian Patent Organization or EAPO.
• The European Patent Office or EPO.
• The Patent Office of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, also called the GCC Patent Office.

Unfortunately, there's no universal system for granting patents.

If you need help with product patents, you can post your legal need or post your job 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.