Established companies and aspiring entrepreneurs often share the same vision: making a product or service better. The push to do so requires innovation that’s often unique to a single entity, whether it be an individual inventor or a company’s research and development department. Yet once a new product or invention has been created, the proverbial clock is ticking on the time one has to protect the product’s basic design, function, and output from being copied by competitors without requiring some sort of royalty or licensing agreement. That’s where patent protection comes in.
A patent is essentially a right of ownership granted by the federal government to those inventors and innovators of items meant for beneficial use. Without them, people may be discouraged from sharing ideas out of fear that another could profit from them without their express permission or, worse yet, steal them altogether. The writers of the U.S. Constitution foresaw this potential and thus empowered Congress with the right to grant patents, with the ultimate purpose being to “promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing…to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”
Qualifying for a Patent
Today, patents are issued through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, who have developed a certain criteria that must be met in order for an invention or process innovation to be considered “patentable.” To meet these standards, one must show the product to be:
The Different Types of Patents
There are three kinds of patents that one may apply for. A utility patent is meant for actual new products, machines, or processes. Examples of this may include a new computer software program, or a new medical instrument. Design patents protect design concepts for a particular product. For example, while a couch may not be a new product, a redesigned couch meant to help people with back or neck problems may be patentable. Finally, a plant patent is given when a new plant is created. These can be tricky in that if new plant varieties are discovered to have happened through natural processes, they are not patentable. Rather, they must be created through asexual means in order for their composition to qualify for patent protection.
Given the competitive nature of business, it should not be surprising that those looking for a competitive advantage will look wherever they can to find it, even if it means copying the ideas of another. Thus, if one hopes to retain his or her right of ownership over a product or process, filing for and obtaining a patent is essential. While the process may be time-consuming, the financial rewards that having patent protection provides are worth it over the long-term.
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