The uses of a patent are that they provide the ability to exclude another person from using your invention. As a patent owner, you can prevent others from selling, manufacturing, or using your invention without your permission.

Why Are Patents Useful?

A patent is a method for protecting an invention or a concept. Whether the patent owner is a legal entity or a person, they will have the right to exclude others from using their invention for as long as the patent is valid. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the organization that is responsible for granting patents. Depending on the type of patent that is registered, protections last between 14 and 20 years.

When you hold a patent, you can stop other people from using your invention without your express authorization. Only the inventor may apply for a patent. If more than one person came up with the invention or idea, they must apply as joint inventors. This is a legal requirement.

Many patents are granted for inventions in technological fields. These inventions can be very simple, such as a kitchen appliance, or complex, such as a computer chip. If a person attempts to patent an invention or idea that they were not actually responsible for creating, the patent would be invalid, and the person may also be at risk for criminal penalties. People whose only contributions to an invention were financial are not a joint inventor.

Another way to understand a patent is as a government-granted temporary monopoly over an idea or invention. Historically, patents have been granted in order to encourage people to create new inventions and to reveal these inventions to the public.

There are three different types of patents available to inventors:

  • Design patents.
  • Plant patents.
  • Utility patents.

Utility patents are the most common type of patent, and they will last for a period of 20 years once granted.

Using the Patent System

If you're interested in applying for a patent, you should be aware that the application process can be very expensive and time consuming, with your expenses increasing to a considerable degree if you plan to apply in multiple countries. It is for this reason that large companies benefit the most from the patent system. For many people, the most enticing reason to apply for a patent is the potential to make money through licensing fees. In other fields, such as the pharmaceutical industry, the main motivation for applying for a patent is gaining exclusive rights to an invention.

Depending on the nature of your idea, you may consider applying for a copyright instead of a trademark. While copyrights can be useful for some types of intellectual property, their protections aren't as strong as those afforded by a patent. Copyrights only protect how you express an idea, meaning there is nothing preventing someone else from using your idea in a different way.

Patents, on the other hand, protect the actual idea, as long as it is an invention. This allows the person who owns the patent to keep others from using the idea. This is true even if the person was unaware that the patent existed. It's common for one company that holds a patent to allow another company to use the patented invention for a fee. When you allow someone else to use your patent, you issue the person a patent license.

What Happens When You Hold a Patent?

When you are a patent holder, you have the right to exclude. This means that no one else can use your patented invention unless you have given them permission. In many countries, however, this right to exclusion only applies if someone is using your invention for commercial purposes. The right to exclusion may not apply if someone is using your invention for the purposes of research.

Many countries in Europe, for example, have decided that patent holders' exclusive rights only apply to commerce. For instance, in these countries, if someone builds your invention in their home with the intention to use it only for their personal purposes, they would not be infringing on your patent. This is not considered infringement because you would sustain no harm by the other person using your invention.

This differs from the United States, where patent holders can prevent the use of their invention even for personal purposes.

If you need help understanding the uses of a patent, you can post your legal needs 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.