Patents exist to protect inventions from being made, offered for sale, sold, used, or imported into the country by others for a certain period of time. In the United States, there are three different types of patents:
- Utility Patents protect inventions that have a specific function, including things like products, processes, machines and other technology.
- Design Patents protect the unique way a manufactured object appears. This could include an original shape or the surface ornamentation (note that this is different from a copyright).
- Plant Patents protect plant varieties that are asexually reproduced, including hybrids.
Inventors should recognize that their creation is not patented unless they timely file a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the patent has been granted. Additionally, utility patents are subject to periodic maintenance fees. Obtaining a patent is a time consuming and complex process. An intellectual property attorney is useful to make sure all the appropriate and necessary paperwork gets timely filed.
While the United States previously had a “first to invent” system of patent protection, the United States switched to a “first inventor to file” system in September 2011. As such, it is important for you to timely file a patent application as soon as possible in order to protect yourself and your innovation against copycats. Not filing for a patent on your invention will make it difficult or impossible for you to prove you were the original inventor. Filing a patent application is much more involved than registering a copyright. In order to obtain a patent on your invention, your invention must meet the following requirements.
First, your invention must be “novel.” Under U.S. law, your invention will be considered novel if you invented it first. To know if your invention is novel, it is helpful to search for “prior art” (previously issued patents or published patent applications) on the website of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO https://www.uspto.gov). Prior art is not limited to patents and patent applications, so you may also wish to search the Internet as well. If you do perform searches remember to keep a list of relevant patents, applications, or publications.
Next, your invention must be “useful” and actually capable of performing a purpose.
Finally, your invention must meet the legal standards for “non-obviousness.” In other words, a general person in the field of your invention cannot consider your invention to be obvious with respect to the prior art. For example, a chair with five legs would likely be considered obvious compared to a chair with four legs.
Applying for a Patent in the US
To apply for a patent, you must file a patent application with the USPTO that includes a complete and detailed description of your invention, including graphs, diagrams, drawings and charts (where appropriate) to permit one of ordinary skill in the art to practice your invention once your patent expires. You need to include all the information that is necessary for a manufacturer to build a working prototype without undue experimentation. You also need to include proposed claims that describe the extent of your invention. While it is permissible to do this yourself, you will almost certainly need help with filing a complete patent application from an experienced patent attorney.
You will also need help from an experienced DC patent attorney in order to answer any follow-up questions and objections received from the USPTO. This process could take anywhere from several months to several years.
The USPTO routinely publishes a copy of your patent application approximately 18 months after the application is filed. If your patent application is allowable, the USPTO will issue you a patent covering your invention. Until a patent is issued, you can identify the status of your invention as “patent pending,” which is usually enough to scare off copycats.
Contact Our Experienced Patent Attorney Today
Navigating the patent process without the assistance of an experienced attorney will likely lead to a lot of wasted time and money and may leave your IP rights unprotected. Our Washington DC patent lawyers will take care of the most difficult aspects of the patent process and help you get the protect you need. Call us today.