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A patent is a form of intellectual property rights ownership that covers inventions and commercially manufactured products. This protects owners from the misuse of their inventions and also provides them the authority to decide who may sell, use, or manufacture their concept.

This article explains briefly how patents can be obtained to protect a design, provides examples of the types of patents that are available, and explains how the application process works.

What are the Main Types of Patent?

There is more than one type of patent available when you file your application.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) grants these legal documents under the following criteria:

  • Utility patents: Granted to inventors who creates a useful process, machine, component or manufactured good
  • Plant patents: Registered by discoverers or breeders of a new species of plant
  • Design patents: Provided to anyone who designs and registers a new and original ornamental concept for an article of manufacture

How to Apply For a Patent

There are a number of essential steps you will need to follow when filing an application for a patent. Many of these involve due diligence and research rather than completing extensive legal paperwork, however.

To get your patent successfully with the USTPO you will need to do the following:

  • Create a written record of your invention
  • Check to see if your invention qualifies for patent protection
  • Consider the commercial potential of your invention
  • Check the patent records in case your creation has already been registered
  • Prepare a Regular Patent Application (APR) or Provisional Patent Application (PPA)
  • File the APR or PPA with the USPTO either by mail or electronically

When the invention or design has been registered with the USPTO via a PPA it then gains “patent pending” status. However, you must then file an APR within 1 year of registering for your provisional application or it will lose this status.

Once you have filed a full APR, the USPTO will carefully examine your designs to make sure that it doesn’t contravene any existing patents. If this criterion is satisfied and no existing products or components are already in existence, you will be successfully granted full patent status.

How Do I Know If My Invention is Eligible For Patent Protection?

One of the important initial steps of the patent process is establishing if your invention is eligible for this kind of protection.

Only certain items are qualified patents under USPTO rules. Some examples of patentable inventions include:

  • Drugs
  • Jewelry
  • Medical devices
  • Musical instruments
  • Chemical formulas
  • Computer software
  • New plant and animal breeds
  • Fabric and fabric design
  • Genetically modified bacteria

Additionally, it is important to consider before filing that creating a patent can be a lengthy and sometimes costly process. It is therefore essential to decide before proceeding whether creating this protection is necessary.

Inventors should make sure to assess the commercial viability, usefulness, and benefits of the proposed design carefully before embarking on the application process.

How Long Is a Patent Valid For?

When a patent is filed with the USPTO it is normally valid for 20 years from that date onwards. However, those registered with the USPTO only cover the United States and its overseas territories. There is, unfortunately, no such thing as an international patent.

To use an invention commercially in another country it may be necessary to register the patent in the jurisdiction where you intend to sell it in order to enjoy proper rights protection. This of course is subject to the rules and patent durations authorized by the nation in question.

Additionally, once a patent expires it cannot be renewed in the USA. After the initial 20 year period has passed the protected item will then become public domain.

Trademarks and copyright focus on protecting the intellectual property of ideas, (which cannot get a patent) images, and brands whilst patents focus on tangible inventions or products.

Whilst both trademarks and copyright focus on commercial products and are managed by the same federal authority they focus on quite different elements. Trademarks are designed to protect the recognizable features of a corporation or business. Patents on the other hand are often used instead to safeguard an actual physical product or recipe.

Can You File For a Patent Without an Attorney?

Yes, it is perfectly possible to file for a patent on your own without the use of an attorney.

Many inventors and designers make use of lawyers to ensure that their invention is adequately protected or to pursue a case against patent infringement. Nevertheless, it is also quite simple to register your patent without a legal professional for simpler products.