By Will Sun
Imagine that you have invented the cure for cancer. An unlimited energy source. Or even something as zany as a zero-gravity boot. Whatever it is, without a patent, others may begin copying, selling, manufacturing, and transporting your invention all without your permission or even knowledge. Thus, patents are crucial to protecting your intellectual property.
But what exactly are patents? And how does one get them?
What is a patent?
First pioneered in 1790 and issued by President George Washington himself, patents have long been a cornerstone of the American economy. Essentially, a patent is the granting of a right to property to an inventor, by a sovereign authority such as the U.S. government. With this grant, the inventor has exclusive rights to the process, prototype, or invention in exchange for providing a detailed description of the invention.
Primarily handled by the U.S. government, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) both gives approvals and looks through applications. It is important to note that U.S. Patents are only applicable in the US. In foreign countries, carefully research how to get intellectual property rights with their specific government.
From the words of the government itself, the criteria for a patent includes someone who “Invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent, subject to the conditions and requirements of the law.”
Within America, there are 3 primary types of patents: Utility, Design, and Plant.
Utility Patents - The most common type of patent, with 90+% of all patents belonging to this category, are designed specifically for those who create a new and applicable process, a machine, or even a type of matter. Lasting up to 20 years, a utility patent requires maintenance fees to be paid.
Design Patents - These patents are given to those who create unique, innovative, or decorative designs on existing products. Basically, these protect the appearance or functionality of an item. A key thing to remember is that the design itself must be new and practical enough to require the protection of intellectual property. While design patents filed after May 13, 2015, last for up to 15 years, those filed before that date only last 14 years. Luckily, there are no maintenance fees applied to design patents.
Plant Patents - As the name suggests, this patent is granted to someone who engineers or discovers a new plant that is capable of reproduction. Similar to utility patents, these last up to 20 years with no maintenance fees.
With patents come a host of unique benefits. They allow people to continue inventing, innovating, and experimenting without worrying about their ideas or knowledge being infringed upon or copied. For instance, an agricultural company may spend millions of dollars on researching and developing a new type of fertilizer. However, without a patent, other farmers or companies may begin copying and distributing the fertilizer, making a profit off an idea that was not theirs.
How do I get a patent?
The basic steps for getting a patent may seem simple, but much time and effort must be invested to make sure that your new invention is properly secured.
Research the database - Before even applying for any type of patent, begin researching and scouring through the Patent and Trademark Office’s database. This is to make sure that no one else has created an invention, process, or design that is similar to yours. Always remember that a story must be considered different enough from others and have a significant change/benefit to the functionality of existing products.
Complete the Application - Compiling a detailed disclosure of your invention, submitting specific documents involving identification, and paying the necessary fees are all key steps to successfully completing the patent application. Typically, a blueprint, images, and even videos are needed to affirm the invention as yours.
Sign an Oath and Wait for Results - Right before the final application is sent in, you must sign an official oath that shows that you have actually invented or designed the invention/improvement. It is critical that you carefully review the terms of this application, as it is a legal and binding document. Finally, after the last fee payment is submitted, the application is reviewed and rejection or approval is given out. This typically lasts 22 months to review the application completely.