What Are Patents?

A patent is a government-granted right given to inventors in the United States who wish to protect their work so that others cannot use, copy offer for sale, or sell their patented invention.

On the date that you file a patent application, your patent is valid for 20 years. However, patent rights are usually only in effect starting on the day the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (also known as USPTO) approves your patent application.

An invention is defined as “any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof”.

Virtually anything can be patented, however there are certain regulations to be followed when trying to patent an invention. There are three primary characteristics an invention must possess:

  • Novel
  • Useful
  • Not obvious

Patentable Subject Matter

Congress had declared four main categories of invention that patentable subject matter could fall under:

  1. Processes
  2. Machines
  3. Articles of Manufacture
  4. Compositions of Matter

Essentially every type of invention to ever exist is underneath one of these categories.

A patented product would fall underneath one of these three categories: machines, articles of manufacture, or compositions of matter. A patented process is considered anything that takes multiple steps to be performed. This process might also be called an “action”.

Although almost anything could be patented, there is certain subject matter that cannot be protected by a patent. This subject matter includes physical phenomena (i.e. natural products), abstract ideas (i.e. algorithms), and laws of nature.


For your invention to be considered novel, it must be new.


For an invention to be considered useful it must meet two requirements: be able to perform what it was intended to perform and serve a useful purpose.

The patent application process can be a costly one, particularly if you plan to apply for a patent across multiple countries.

In most cases, small inventors will apply for a patent only in their own country. Larger companies with a bigger budget benefit from the patent system more than small business do.

One of the most appealing reasons for obtaining a patent is the licensing money that can be earned from a patented product. In certain areas like the pharmaceutical industry, licensing money is the primary reason for patenting products.

Another advantage of a patent is that it is more powerful than copyright

Many companies and inventors will use patents as bargaining chips. For example, if one inventor has a patent on a product and another inventor or company wants to practice it, that inventor or company has to pay the original inventor. If the inventor interested in that particular patented product also has patented inventions, they could use their own inventions to negotiate a trade or lower license fee.

If your business is in the ecommerce industry, patents are seen as an indicator of a company’s worth.

In many cases, venture capitalists won’t even consider investing in a business that doesn’t have a patent application on a service on product.

A patent serves as a way to prevent anyone else from practicing an invention and therefore the system affects everyone.

Not Obvious

The term “not obvious” means that a series of inventive steps must be taken.

The three primary patents described by USPTO are:

  1. Utility patents (covering inventions that result in usefulness).
  2. Design patents (covering the surface or shape of a physical object).
  3. Plant patents (covering asexually reproducing plants).

The Patent Application Structure

There are three components to each patent application:

  1. The Description which describes the invention in great detail and gives examples of other products, inventions, and concepts that are similar.
  2. The Drawings which provide information on the invention’s primary parts.
  3. The Claims which describes the invention in legal terms.

In many cases, inventors can fill out and submit their patent applications with the help of a patent attorney.

However, considering how extensive and complex patent documents are, it is strongly recommended that inventors recruit the legal services of a patent attorney when they are crafting their patent application.

If you are seeking to patent something in a country other than your own, many legal systems around the world require that you obtain legal representation from an attorney in that country.

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