However, applying for a patent isn't always beneficial. It's important to consider the pros and cons of securing a patent and develop a better understanding of patent basics and their purpose before applying.

The Basics of Patents

By obtaining a patent, the patent holder has the right to:

  • Permit or license individuals or businesses to use the invention.
  • Sell the rights to the invention.
  • Create terms for how the approved parties may use the invention.

The U.S. Patent Office approves patents for products (i.e., physical items) and processes (i.e., a method the inventor uses to create a product). Moreover, one product may contain multiple patents for all the components that make an invention run. A patent grants the owner protection for their invention for a limited period — usually 20 years from the filing date.

Patents provide territorial rights. This means that the laws of the country or region where a person files a patent limit the protections that the patent provides. Also, though country and regional laws enforce patent protections, it's up to the patent owner to watch for and act against any patent infringement. A licensing agreement outlines the terms for how a permitted third party may use a patent.

People have filed patents in every industry, from electronics to office supplies and microprocessors. However, the benefits of a patent aren't limited to the patent holder. A patent also:

  • Recognizes and honors the individuals who created an invention.
  • Publishes the new knowledge revealed in the patent, enabling the patent holder to continue their research without having the idea stolen while also inspiring other inventors to think of new innovations or processes that the discovery has inspired.
  • Encourages competitors to find other solutions, enriching society through the pursuit of new and better processes and products.
  • Provides leverage. A business who owns a patent may have an easier time attracting contributions from investors and shareholders. A patent is also a powerful negotiating tool when it comes to mergers and acquisitions.

Applying for Patent Protection

An inventor may only patent items or methods that meet certain requirements. Every filing office has its own unique terms and condition that an inventor must meet. In general, however, an invention must:

  • Be novel: An invention must present a new characteristic or idea that has never before existed in public knowledge. This body of public knowledge in legal terms is called “prior art.”
  • Have an “inventive step”: This shows that an invention has a unique application in a specific field and that an ordinary person without specialized knowledge could not have invented the product or process.
  • Have an industrial application: People don't have to use the invention exclusively for commercial purposes, but it must have a clear industrial use.
  • Be patentable: Laws typically exclude inventors from patenting things such as scientific theories, mathematical methods, and similar scientific or natural discoveries.

In addition to these requirements, the inventor must disclose in the patent application a clear description of the product or process. In other words, a person with relevant technical knowledge should be able to understand and replicate the invention that the creator explains in the patent application.

Several countries have national and regional patent offices that manage patents. Depending on their location, inventors may file a patent with one of these offices:

  • African Intellectual Property Organization
  • African Regional Intellectual Property Organization
  • Eurasian Patent Organization
  • European Patent Office
  • Patent Office of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf

Unfortunately, no international system for patent rights presently exists. Working with a patent attorney can help ensure that domestic and international laws won't hinder your patent application.

Working With a Patent Attorney

Though a person can prepare and file a patent application without legal assistance, a patent attorney can help with the process and ensure that the inventor covers all their bases. Working with an attorney is especially important in cases where a person operates internationally or resides in one country but has developed an item to be patented in conjunction with a business overseas.

If you need help with products with patents, 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.