What Is a Patent?

A patent is a right granted to the inventor of a product by the government that permits the inventor to prevent others from making, selling, or using the invention for a specific period of time. Patents are incredibly important, and the patent system was designed to encourage individuals and companies to create inventions that are useful and unique to society. Patents are so important that Congress was given the power to grant them by the U.S. Constitution.

Who Grants Patents in the U.S.?

The power for granting patents in the United States lies with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The USPTO is responsible for reviewing patent requests and granting patents for inventions that meet the statutory criteria.

What Are the Different Types of Patents?

There are three different kinds of patents that are issued by the USPTO – design patents, utility patents, and plant patents.

  • Utility patents. Utility patents are the most common type of patent granted, and these cover inventions of new machines, processes, and chemicals.
  • Design patents. A design patent is granted to protect the unique design or appearance of various manufactured objects, such as the overall design or the surface ornamentation of the object. In other words, this patent protects how something looks.
  • Plant patents. These patents are granted for the invention and asexual reproduction of a new or distinctive plant variety. This can include hybrid varieties.

Utility and plant patents last for 20 years following the day they are granted. Design patents last for 14 years following the day they are granted.

What Is Patentable?

Not every invention is going to qualify for a patent. In order for a patent to be granted, a new item must be, in the words of the USPTO, “novel” and “non-obvious.”

  • An invention is novel if it differs from other similar inventions in one or more of its parts. Additionally, the object may not have been sold, publicly used, or patented by another person within a year of the date of the patent application.
  • An invention is non-obvious if a person who is skilled in the field of the invention would consider this new object unexpected or surprising.

By using these definitions, we can see that a patent has to revolve around human-created objects. Naturally occurring substances and the laws of nature cannot be patented, even if they are newly discovered. Additionally, mathematical formulas, calculation methods, and abstract principles cannot be patented. However, processes that use formulas and methods can be patented. For example, patents have been granted for industrial processes of various materials that depend on mathematical equations and involve the use of new computer programs.

Does an Invention Need to Be Useful?

In order for an inventor to be granted a utility patent, they will need to show that the invention is useful. In other words, the invention must have some sort of beneficial use, and it must be operable. An object or machine that will not operate to perform its intended purposes cannot be considered useful and will not be granted a patent. In order for an inventor to be granted a utility patent a, the invention must fall into one of these categories:

  • A process
  • A machine
  • A manufacture
  • A composition of matter
  • …an improvement on any of the above

Regardless of what type of patent you or somebody you know may be trying to secure, you should consider working with a skilled Orange County intellectual property lawyer who can walk you through the entire process. A patent attorney will understand the ins and outs of the USPTO system and be able to help you with all the correct paperwork and submitting the necessary documentation.