Patents are something many people talk about, and many more people misunderstand. There are dozens of complex ins and outs to patent laws, from maintenance fees to renewals that most people aren’t even aware of.
If you hold a patent and want more information or are an aspiring patent holder, reading the commonly asked patent-related questions can give you a better understanding of the world of patent law.
Patents come from the federal government and are granted to inventors that can prove their invention is unique and distinct from anything else in existence. The patent gives the inventor the right to prohibit anyone else from making or selling the product.
Inventors must apply for patents through a specific process. Applicants receive approval or denial for their application based on a court’s ruling of the usefulness and uniqueness of the product up for patent.
To keep the rights of a patent under active enforcement, the owner must pay patent maintenance fees periodically to the United States Patent and Trademark Office or USPTO.
The fees are mandatory to continue the patent. However, certain items, like plant or design patents, don’t have any fees.
If your fees and renewals are a massive headache, there are professional services you can invest in from companies like these to help simplify and manage your patent renewal process.
Almost anything can receive a patent. For example, any of the following categories can be patented: machines, articles made by machines, computer programs, medicines, compositions, chemicals, biogenetic materials, and processes.
The general criteria for a patent demand the item or idea is new, useful, and nonobvious, meaning it has a clear purpose and has not been thought of beforehand.
A famous example of a wildly successful patent is the lightbulb. Thomas Edison received the patent for the incandescent lightbulb in 1878. It was a new, nonobvious idea that was certainly useful.
There are so many items and ideas eligible for a patent that it may be easier to discuss what you cannot patent. For instance, laws of nature, such as relativity and gravity, are ineligible for patenting as everyone uses them, and you couldn’t stop their use even if you wanted to.
Atomic weaponry cannot be patented, likely because patents are accessible to the public. Another patent law in place to protect the people is the ineligibility of articles that oppose morality or offend the public good.
There is also a law that primarily refers to articles prompting human cloning or designer genetics. And lastly, you cannot patent anything that assists in illegal activity, such as a suicide-assistant robot or machine.
You can sell products or services without a patent. Many products in the US are patent-free. You only need a patent if you want to prevent others from profiting from your idea.
By legal definition, a patent provides an inventor the right to protect their invention. The protection means, once patented, no one else can do the following with the invention:
- Selling or offering to sell
Patents protect your right to a monopoly over your intellectual property.
Patent-pending is a legal term that refers to the patent process at the stage when the application has been submitted but not yet approved. If someone steals your idea and copies it while your patent is pending, they can be held liable for violating the patent once it has been fully granted.
Patent-pending is a way to slowly introduce your product to the public while warning competitors that they may become entangled in a legal battle if they copy the idea.
Licensing a patent means someone is paying for the opportunity to make, sell, and use the patented product. So if someone invents a new phone, they can patent it and then license their patent to Apple or Android, and the big-name companies can produce and sell the new phone.
The patent holder is the “licensor,” and the person producing and selling the product would be the “licensee.” Licensing your patent is the best way to profit off the invention, especially if you don’t want to handle production and sales on your own.
Unfortunately, no. Patents are not global, as each country’s governing body grants them. If the US federal government gives you a patent, and then someone in Ukraine invents the same thing, you have no legal standing to claim intellectual property theft or anything of the like.
However, almost every country has patent laws and a patent office to grant inventors’ inventions protective rights. The country that has given the most patents is China, with 452,804 active patents. The US comes in a close second with 354,430, followed by Japan.
So, in theory, a determined inventor could gain patents for a product all around the world, but it’s usually not necessary and not worth the money, time, or effort. You also usually must be a citizen of the country to hold a patent there.
Patents are not forever. Many people do not realize that patents are only enforced for up to twenty years from the time you file the initial application in America, and the maintenance fees are required throughout the twenty years for the patent to remain in effect.
The twenty-year time limit is a hard line in the sand for the patent office. Some patents grant even less time. For instance, most design patents are only valid for fifteen years.
Once the patent time limit elapses, the item or idea enters the public domain for free use. Every so often, you may hear of something becoming public domain. This announcement is usually due to patent expiration.
Patent laws can be tricky, but understanding them is essential to gain and hold a patent successfully. Despite the many hoops one must jump through, patents are an incredible aspect of society that encourages new and creative ideas while protecting the individuals that come up with them.