7 minutes | Jul 8, 2013

What is a Patent? US Patent Basics

This article discusses general concepts of US patent law.  To compare how patents compare to other intellectual property ("IP"),  note this article.   I. Outline Patents vs Trademarks and other IP Three Types of Patents Provisional vs Non-Provisional Patent Applications The Basic Patent Application Process Mainentance Enforcement   II. Patents vs Trademarks and other IP A U.S patent is an intellectual property right (also called an "IP right") granted by the US Government to allow an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted. Patents are typically thought of protecting “gadgetry”, such as as the proverbial “better mousetrap”. Thus is done by utility patent protection, but there are also design and plant patents, which are discussed below. Patents are different than trademarks or copyrights. For a more detailed discussion of these three types of IP,  note this article. III. The Three Types of US Patents There are three types of U.S. patents: utility patents, (most common), design patents (next common) and plant patents (least common). 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.  If used to protect methods or software, these utility patents are often also referenced as “method patents” or “software patents”. Generally speaking, utility patents last 20 years from their filing date.  Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and "ornamental" design for an article of manufacture. Design patents last 14 years from their issue date. Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant. Generally speaking, plant patents last 20 years from their filing date. IV. Provisional vs Non-Provisional Patent Applications Provisional and non-provisional applications are two types of utility patent applications. A provisional patent application never issues as a patent, and is never reviewed for patentability, it simply remains pending for a year. Provisional patent applications are often used to allow an inventor to assert "Patent Pending" status for a ye
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