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Frequently Asked Questions: Patents

Intellectual property rights encompass various legal protections for creative and innovative works, including:

Each type of intellectual property right protects different forms of intellectual propertyPatents protect novel and useful inventions. This FindLaw article will address frequently asked questions about patents.

What are the different types of patents?

  • Design PatentsProtect unique, ornamental, and nonfunctional design or appearance of an article of manufacture
  • Plant Patents: Protect new and distinct plant varieties that are asexually reproduced
  • Utility Patents: Protect processes, articles of manufacture, compositions of matter, and machines

How long does it take to obtain a patent?

Utility patents can take two to four years or more. Plant and design patents usually take one year, though the application process can take up to two years. The process can be lengthy if you're pursuing international patent protection under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).

What happens to my invention once I get a patent?

Obtaining a patent for your invention grants you, as the patent owner, exclusive rights to the invention. These exclusive rights include the right to license, sell, and maintain control of your creation.

Patent rights allow patent holders to have a strong legal claim against patent infringement. If infringement occurs, patent holders can take legal action and receive potential damages.

What is the one-year rule in patent law?

The one-year rule in patent law is the time frame in which an inventor can file a patent application after specific public disclosures or activities related to the invention without jeopardizing the patentability of the invention.

This one-year grace period protects inventors by giving them reasonable time to decide if they want to seek patent protection after making their invention.

Does an acceptance from the USPTO mean I now have a patent?

No. Acceptance of a patent application by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office does not mean you have a granted patent. A patent examiner will review your application to assess the novelty and nonobviousness of your invention. The patent office may issue office actions with rejections or request amendments to the application from the applicant.

What is a provisional application for a patent?

provisional patent application is an application for a patent filed in the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This application is not examined but allows the applicant to establish an early effective filing date in a later filed patent application. It does not require a formal patent claim, oath, declaration, or a prior art statement.

The provisional application lasts for 12 months. Provisional applications cannot receive extensions. So, the applicant will have to file a nonprovisional patent application before the 12 months runs out should they wish to protect their invention or process.

Another option is to file a petition to convert the provisional application into a nonprovisional application. This will affect the term of the patent. After filing a provisional application, applicants may use the term "patent pending" when describing the invention.

What does patent pending mean?

The manufacturer or seller of an invention uses this term to inform consumers and others that a patent application has been filed with the USPTO. Although you don't have a patent yet, being able to say "patent pending" conveys to others that you have taken steps to protect your idea. It warns them that they may face legal consequences if they try to copy your idea.

How can I figure out if what I invented is already patented?

Inventors can perform a preliminary patent search online at the USPTO Patent Search Facility in Alexandria, Virginia, or one of the Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries nationwide. Patent assignment records are also searchable online. You can hire a patent attorney to conduct a complete search.

How much does it cost to file a patent application?

The cost depends on what type of application you file. The USPTO maintains a current fee schedule that lists the fees associated with various types of patent applications. There are also various fees involved in the patent process, including the filing fee, the issuance fee, and the maintenance fee.

Where can I find patent forms for applications?

There are two sets of forms:

This is due to the enactment of the America Invents Act of 2011, whose most significant provision changes the U.S. patent system from a "first to invent" system to a "first to file" system.

Can the public get information about my patent application while it is pending?

The USPTO keeps patent applications confidential until it issues the patent or publishes the application. Once published, the public may request a copy of the application file. Most applications are published 18 months after the date the application was filed.

How do I check the status of my patent application?

The USPTO maintains a Patent Application Information Retrieval system, which allows users to retrieve information about the status of a patent application. The public system allows access to issued patents and published applications, and the private system allows access to pending application status using digital certificates. Applicants must meet certain requirements to access the private system.

Who is the patent granted to if two people work on the invention together?

If two people share ideas to form the invention, they are joint inventors. The patent will be issued to them jointly, provided the patent application is otherwise proper. If one person provided all the ideas for the invention, and the other only followed instructions in making it, the person who provided all the ideas is the sole inventor.

How do patents differ from copyrights and trademarks?

Copyrights protect original creative works of authorship in a fixed medium. Trademarks protect brand names, logos, slogans, and symbols. Patents protect novel, useful, and nonobvious inventions and discoveries.

How long does a patent last?

Utility and plant patent protection lasts 20 years from the application filing date. Design patents only last 14 years if filed on or before May 13, 2015; it lasts 15 years otherwise. You can use the patent term calculator to help determine the length of protection.

How can I find a patent attorney to help me with patent FAQs?

If you have more questions about patent protection, contact a patent attorney near you by visiting FindLaw's attorney directory.

Are you a small-business owner or entrepreneur wanting to learn more about intellectual property protection? Maybe patent information? Visit FindLaw's Intellectual Property section to learn more.

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