Why did inventors apply for patents? A patent offers a temporary monopoly on selling, using, or making the products they create. This monopoly, also called a period of exclusivity, usually lasts for 20 years from the patent filing date. The opportunity to make a profit during this time is an incentive for inventors to create more ideas. It can also be a source of funding for researching and developing new inventions. Coming up with a successful design can take many tries. To apply for a patent, visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office or USPTO's website.

The Importance of Patents: Basic Patent Rules

Patent applications are public, and you can search for existing patents with the USPTO's database. That way, you can avoid patent infringement, which is using, making, or selling a product without permission from the patent owner. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the authority to grant patents to authors and inventors in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8. A patent doesn't automatically give the inventor the right to use the invention, and it could be invalid if prior art or a similar or identical invention is already patented.

For example, if you have a patent on a container for drinking coffee and someone else has a patent on a handle for a container, you won't be able to place a handle on your container without that person's permission. However, he or she won't be able to attach a cup to that handle without your consent. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office waits at least 18 months after filing to publish patent applications, so there's no way for you to know what your competitors have recently developed.

Patents are issued to inventors, not businesses, but many employees transfer ownership of their patents to their employers. Many employment contracts include this requirement so that business can profit from products developed by their employees. Patent protection is available for any product, design, or process that meet certain requirements:

  • Novelty
  • Non-obviousness
  • Utility

Your invention must be new and useful. You should avoid obvious products that people already use, like decorative rocks for a porch or garden. In most countries, patent protection isn't available for inventions that were public knowledge before filing.

Foreign Patents

Under international treaties, filing a patent in the United States is like filing for foreign purposes as well, and you can use the date of the domestic filing. However, you'll still need to complete any foreign patent applications within a year of the domestic application. This makes filing a patent in the United States first the simplest choice, especially since applying for a foreign patent could be considered a public disclosure of your invention.

Foreign patents are usually filed under the Patent Cooperation Treaty or the European Patent Convention to limit initial filing fees and provide protection in many countries. However, you'll eventually have to pay filing fees in every country where you sell, make, or advertise your invention.

Patent Costs

Getting a patent in the United States usually costs from $10,000 to $25,000 for all the filing fees and attorney fees needed. Since fees for many countries are required, an international patent can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even though it's expensive, filing a patent will save you money in the future by protecting your intellectual property from infringement. You should also get a written non-infringement opinion from an objective patent lawyer before you introduce your product. If a court decides that infringement was willful or intentional, the infringer could have to pay three times the damages suffered by the inventor.

Provisional Patents

A provisional patent has lower fees and fewer requirements than a full patent. If you don't have the money for a full patent, filing a provisional one provides some protection. However, you'll need to file the full patent with a year of the application date of the provisional patent.

Some items have "Patent Pending" on the package along with a patent number. This means the inventor has filed a provisional patent application but hasn't yet been granted a full patent. The patent pending phrase is a warning to other people and companies that they could have to pay damages and legal fees if they copy an invention that has it.

If you need help with a patent application, 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.