A patent is a federal-granted protection for owners of inventions. However, not all inventions are automatically eligible for a patent. Each one needs to meet a number of eligibility criteria in order to be protected from being made, used, or sold by someone else. The following questions touch on patent information and what makes a discovery eligible for a patent.
1. Question: Is there only one type of patent available?
There are actually three different kinds of patents that are available for invention protection:
• Plant patents- protect discovery of new plant types through asexual reproduction
• Design patents- protect the overall appearance of an object
• Utility patents- protect the invention of a machine, process, chemical creation, and anything that is manufactured
2. Question: What are the eligibility requirements for a patent?
Once it is determined that an invention falls under one of the patent categories, it still must meet all of the criteria for patent eligibility.
• It must be a brand new invention, which is also referred to as being novel.
• The invention must be beneficially useful (this only applies for a utility patent).
• The patent application must be filled out prior to disclosing the invention to the public.
• The creation must be nonobvious, which means that it is an unexpected invention and not just the next step of a product or idea that has already been patented.
3. Question: How do you apply for a patent?
If you think your invention meets all of the required criteria, you can fill out a patent application. Applications can be found through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Be prepared with a title for the invention, a detailed description and the background as well as a brief summary of the creation. Drawings or a flowchart may be necessary in order to show how the invention works. You can either mail in your application or file it electronically via the USPTO. You will also be responsible for an application fee.
4. Question: Once a patent is approved, does it ever expire?
Yes, all patents will run out after a specified period of time depending on the type of patent. A utility patent lasts the longest and it expires 20 years after the filing date. Plant patents last 17 years, and design patents run out after 14 years. As a patent owner, you must also pay maintenance fees in order to keep your patent in force. These are due three times: at 3 to 3 ½ years, 7 to 7 ½ years, and 11 to 11 ½ years.
If this fee is not paid on time, the patent will expire early and the invention will be considered public property. Owners can usually reinstate an early-expired patent by filling out a petition and paying the appropriate fees. Once the original patent time has expired, the invention may be used, sold, and reproduced by anyone else.
5. Question: What is the biggest obstacle in obtaining a patent?
When applying for a patent, the most difficult eligibility requirement to get past is the nonobvious question. It can be very subjective because patent examiners may come up with two different opinions based on the same information. Considerations include previous inventions and whether the current patent application is an obvious next step and/or a combination of prior patents. Examiners at the USPTO also look at the time period between prior inventions and the current application, as well as the commercial success capability of the patent in question.
6. Question: Can a patent denial be appealed?
The owner of an invention can appeal a patent denial after the application has been denied twice. This appeal is filed with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, and there are a number of fees associated with the filing.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.