What is a patent and what will one do for me? Patents have a long history and are designed to protect the rights of inventors, new product creators and innovators. Basically a patent can be defined as “a grant made by a government that confers upon the creator of an invention the sole right to make, use, and sell that invention for a set period of time”. Patents are granted by most governments around the world today in order to recognize the value of new inventions or creations and protect the ability of the inventor to profit from his or her work.
The 3 Types of Patents
There are 3 types of patents in the United States – utility patents, design patents and plant patents. Utility patents are awarded for new products, inventions and things of “material substance” that have been created. Design patents, on the other hand, are awarded for unique and newly creative designs, just as the name suggests. Finally plant patents – which are not issued as often as the other two types – are awarded for new plant breeds, creative new plant formats and other plant-based creations. All 3 types of patents have the same intent – protect the rights of the inventor, designer or plant breeder.
U.S. Patent Office
A patent is a government award that gives an inventor the right to exclude others from making the same thing. According to the U.S. Patent and Trade Office, a patent is a grant of a property right with a typical term of 20 years given to the inventor or creator of the new idea or product. Importantly, patents granted by the U.S. government are only enforceable in the United States, U.S. Territories, and U.S. Possessions. Outside of the U.S., an inventor would be required to apply for patents from foreign governments to protect their inventions outside the U.S.
The right conferred by the patent grant is, in the language of the statute and of the grant itself, “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the United States or “importing” the invention into the United States. What is granted is not necessarily the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell or import, but the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention. Once a patent is issued, the patentee must enforce the patent without aid of the USPTO.
Does Not Guarantee Success
In other words, a patent is a protection but it does not guarantee marketplace success. Patents are designed to protect your interests and property rights, nothing more. They do give you the right to exclude others from making or selling the exact same thing you have invented. However, in order to protect your rights as well as to make, use, sell or import your invention, there are additional steps required. Basically the patent is like a certificate of ownership. If you own a home or piece of land and you hold the property deed, all that piece of paper says is that you are the owner. There are no other rights or privileges that go along with ownership. As the owner or patent holder, though, you do have the right to exclude others but enforcement requires legal representation and support outside of the patent application and award system.
How Long are they Good For?
Patents are typically granted for a 20 year period. From the date granted, the patent grants the inventor these same rights – to exclude others – for the next 20 years. In the pharmaceutical industry, many times a patent award results in a market monopoly on a specific drug formulation. The company is entitled to prevent other companies from making the same drug with the same ingredients unless they have permission or have negotiated an agreement to do so. Once the patent expires, generic equivalents typically enter the marketplace and many times the original patent holder will convert the patented formula to an over-the-counter offering where a prescription is not needed. The original patent protects the rights of the inventor or company-sponsored inventions during the first 20 years.
As mentioned, though, a patent does not automatically give the inventor the right to make or sell the new products. If your invention, for example, uses a patented product or component as part of your creation you would need to then have permission or rights to use that product. Without those agreements or rights, your invention would be subject to patent infringement investigations or lawsuits. Patents are granted to protect our rights as inventors, but the scope of that protection is limited to exclusionary rights, not necessarily monopoly market power.
Eric Corl is the founder of IdeaBuyer.com which helps inventors obtain, license, and sell patents.