A patent is an official document granting ownership of an invention to its inventor. Patents are issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and new patents last for a period of 20 years from the date of filing. Term extensions and adjustments are available, provided certain criteria are met. Maintenance fees are required in order to ensure the patent remains valid throughout a given term.
A patent grants its owner the right to prohibit others from creating, using, or selling the invention in the United States, as well as importing the invention into the United States. It is up to the patent holder to take measures to enforce the conditions of the patent.
Do You Need a Patent?
Patents require an investment of time, energy, and money. In some cases, getting a patent is worth the investment, while in others, it’s not. A lot of people believe that patenting something is the easiest way to get rich off a great idea, when in reality, the road to cashing in on an invention is rarely straightforward. Not to mention, most patents do not make their inventors money—some sources suggest that fewer than 2% of patents are viable moneymaking ideas. Therefore, before you go through the process below, it’s a good idea to identify why you want a patent.
Applying for a Patent
According to the USPTO, there are eight steps you will need to take before and after you apply for a patent. They include:
- Determining the type of protection you need. You will need to understand the difference between patents, trademarks, servicemarks, and copyrights.
- Determining whether your invention is patentable. If your invention has already been publicly disclosed, your application for a patent will not be approved.
- Determining the type of patent you need. There are three types of patents: utility, design, and plant.
- Getting ready to apply. Before you apply, you should identify how long you will need to wait for the result, how much it will cost, and whether or not you will need international protection.
- Preparing and submitting your application based on information and guidelines provided by the USPTO.
- Working with your examiner to understand whether your application meets the requirements.
- Receiving approval.
- Maintaining your patent.
Do You Need an Agent/Attorney?
The process of applying for a patent can be complicated, and laypeople with little to no knowledge of patent law or USPTO practices may find it challenging. At some point or another, most people who go through the patent application process wonder if they need a patent attorney or patent agent. Inventors can and do submit their own applications and meet with examiners themselves, but the process may be easier and smoother with the assistance of someone who is familiar with patent law and the patenting process in the United States. However, keep in mind that there is a cost. In addition, hiring a patent attorney or agent isn’t a guarantee that your patent will be accepted or make you money. Beware of exaggerated or false claims to the contrary.
A patent attorney has a law degree from a recognized institution. In order to practice patent law, patent attorneys must pass both a state bar and the USPTO’s patent bar. Patent attorneys give clients advice regarding contracts, and participate in trials.
Licensed patent agents may play a similar role as a patent attorney; however, they have not graduated from law school. Patent agents have passed the USPTO’s patent bar and must be registered with the USPTO in order to help prepare, file, and fight patent applications for their clients. Patent agents may have technical knowledge and/or experience in fields such as engineering and science, which is considered highly valuable given the nature of the work. In some cases, patent agents are hired instead of attorneys.