WHAT IS A PATENT?
A patent is an exclusive right granted by the United States Government and other foreign entities to an inventor for the purposes of preventing others from making, using, selling, importing or offering to sell an invention for a limited period of time in exchange for a complete and full disclosure. Almost any invention may be patentable subject matter as long as it is new and not obvious. Patentable subject matter includes inventions or discoveries of any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter or any improvements thereof. A design patent may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.
TYPES OF PATENTS
There are three types of patents that an inventor may apply for:
1) Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof. Utility patents are described in terms of functionality, thereby potentially securing rights to similar inventions that function the same.
2) Design Patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. Design patents are valuable in cases where the aesthetic features cannot be separated from the article of manufacture. Moreover, design patents can be a valuable supplement to a utility patent in that they can be directed towards specific embodiments that may be more marketable than others - further giving strength to your patent portfolio. Design patents are typically easier to obtain and much less costly than a utility patent.
3) Plant Patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.
Patent applications are filed with the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) in Washington, D.C and must meet certain requirements before the application is examined and issued as a patent. The application must include a written specification that describes the background of the invention, specific details of the invention, a description of its use or uses, drawings that are detailed enough to describe the invention, a description of the drawings and how they are interpreted, and claims that define the invention and scope of protection in specific, concise terms. The claims portion is the most important part of the patent application - it defines that exact patent rights that an inventor may exclude others from practicing the invention.
When an application is received by the Patent Office, it is assigned a serial number and filing date if the application filing requirements are met. After filing, the application is assigned to a USPTO patent examiner who has a background in the technical area of the invention. The examiner reads and interprets the application, reviews and analyses the proposed claims, and evaluates the invention according to the standards of patentability, including the standards of novelty and non-obviousness.
Furthermore, the examiner conducts a search for prior art (patents and public disclosures) and compares the claimed invention to the prior art to determine whether the standards of novelty and non-obviousness have been acquired. Typically, the examiner will issue one or more office actions requiring the inventor to make amendments to the language of the claims and to make arguments distinguishing the invention over the prior art. If the inventor successfully overcomes and addresses the issues raised by the examiner, a patent for the invention is issued.
TOP REASONS TO OBTAIN A PATENT:
Exclusive rights - as defined above, patents provide exclusive rights which usually allow you or your company to use and exploit the invention for a limited period of time - typically 20 years from the filing date of your application.
Opportunity to license or sell the invention - If you chose not to exploit the patent yourself, you may sell it or license the rights to commercialize it to another business or manufacturer.
Strong market position - Through these exclusive rights, you are able to prevent others from commercially using your patented invention, thereby reducing competition and establishing yourself in the market as the pre-eminent player.
Increase in negotiating power - If your business is in the process of acquiring the rights to use the patents of another enterprise, through a licensing contract, your patent portfolio will enhance your bargaining power. That is to say, your patents may prove to be of considerable interest to the enterprise with whom you are negotiating and you could enter into a cross licensing arrangement where, simply put, the patent rights could be exchanged between your business and the other.
Positive image for your business - Business partners, investors and shareholders may perceive patent portfolios as a demonstration of the high level of expertise, specialization and technological capacity within your company. This may prove useful for raising funds, finding business partners and raising your company's market value.
Higher returns on investments - Having invested a considerable amount of money and time in developing innovative products, your business could, under the umbrella of these exclusive rights, commercialize the invention enabling your business to obtain higher returns on investments.