For companies involved in research and development, patents play an important role in protecting novel products and processes from being developed, used or sold by another business. Patents are issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”).
WHAT TYPES OF PATENTS ARE THERE?
- Utility Patent: Also called “patents for invention,” this type of patent is assigned to new inventions of useful machines or processes or a new improvement of an existing machine or process, as well as a new composition of matter. Utility patents have maintenance fees to ensure protection throughout the patent period.
- Design Patent: Issued for new and original designs that are applied to an article or embodied within an article’s manufacture. Maintenance fees do not apply.
- Plant Patent: Plant patents are granted for novel asexually reproduced plants that are either discovered or invented. The plant patent can cover hybrids, mutants, cultivated spores and newly discovered seedlings not including plants propagated by tubers or newly found uncultivated plants. Maintenance fees do not apply to plant patents.
- Reissue Patent: These patents are made to correct errors in original utility, design or plant patent. Their issuance doesn’t affect the original patent’s period of protection, but it can change the scope of that protection.
Another type of patent, the Statutory Invention Registration (SIR), was repealed in 2013 by the America Invents Act. (The SIR had previously replaced the Defensive Publication (DEF).)
HOW LONG DOES THE PROTECTION UNDER A PATENT LAST?
Utility and design patents issued today have a term of 20 years. The term of a design patent is currently 14 years, but the USPTO notes that this term is expected to change in the near future.
WHAT PRODUCTS OR PROCESSES CANNOT BE PATENTED?
- Ideas that are abstract (for instance, ideas that are not interpreted into a prototype, product or process)
- Laws of nature
- Dramatic, musical, literary or artistic creations
- Novel inventions that have no useful purpose or those that offend public morality
- Physical occurrences
CAN ANYONE APPLY FOR A PATENT?
No, a patent can be applied for and issued to (or in the name of) only the inventor or inventors.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR A PATENT TO BE ISSUED?
It takes about two years for the patent process to be completed.
WHAT DOES THE TERM ‘PATENT PENDING’ MEAN? IS MY INVENTION STILL PROTECTED WHILE THE PATENT IS PENDING?
Patent pending is used by inventors to let the public (including other businesses) know that there is a patent on file with the USPTO. During the patent pending period, you do have some protection against infringement. If you suspect infringement, you should consult a patent attorney immediately.