Patents

          The US Patent System has proven to be the greatest incentive to technical innovation in the history of man. While the first patents date from the mid-1400s in Venice, Italy, those were largely “patents of importation;” monopoly grants given to encourage bringing into Venice devices known and used in other countries. Today that would be known as industrial espionage or misappropriation. Later in England, patents granted by the king were monopolies on common products, like salt.

          The US concept of patents was a populist notion. The US, in significant part was founded on the idea that our society was not to be based on inherited estates and titled nobility as the exclusive source of political and economic power. Our founding fathers embedded in the US Constitution the notion that creativity should be rewarded and encouraged. Hence, they stated in Article 1 of the Constitution:

          Clause 8: To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;

          Perhaps President Abraham Lincoln, himself a patentee, said it best: “The patent system added the fuel of interest to the spark of genius.”

          With some variations, this US patent incentive system has spread to over 140 countries, including the 38 countries of the European Union, Mainland China, India, Japan and African countries.

What is a Patent?

          A patent is a grant by the government of a property right in an invention giving the owner the right to exclude others from making, using (including offering for sale or selling) the invention.

Why Patent?

          The main thrust behind awarding patents was to promote and reward the creative process – provided the invention was considered “useful and important.” Modern views include the idea that the patent gives the inventor a head start, some competitive time and distance while he/she gets to market, and thus, profit from his or her invention. That an inventor has attended to starting on the process of securing patent rights is critical to both investors and licensees. Inventors see a patent as some security against investment risks, which are very high for start-ups. Licensees want a strong patent so they are not paying a royalty while their competitors are copying for free.
         A patent gives its owner (the inventor or the person or business to whom the inventor legally transfers the patent) the right to exclude others from making, using or selling the invention “claimed” in the patent grant for an average of 15-17 years, provided that maintenance fees are paid.

What Can Be Patented?

          There are three types of patents – utility, design and plant patents. Utility patents cover inventions that function in a unique manner to produce a utilitarian result. Design patents cover the unique, ornamental or visible shape or design of a non-natural object. Plant patents cover asexually reproducible plants. In order to be granted a patent, the Patent Examiner must be convinced that the invention satisfies the “novelty” and “Unobviousness” requirements in the patent laws. Your invention must be different from what is already known to the public, and it must not be obvious to a person “skilled in the art” (the field) in which your invention fits.

          To review the process for obtaining a utility patent, please view this page at the USPTO website.

          Additional information about patents is available in a pamphlet called "General Information Concerning Patents," available at the USPTO website, www.uspto.gov.

print this page