A patent is a right that is granted by the government (in our case, the United States Patent and Trademark Office: USPTO) that allows the creator of an invention to be the exclusive manufacturer and seller of that invention for a given period of time (generally 20 years). If you’ve invented something and want to make sure no one else copies you, this is how to protect yourself. So, how do you know if you need a patent, copyright or trademark? And, how do you go about doing it?
The USPTO says:
“Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights are three types of intellectual property protection. They are different and serve different purposes. Patents protect inventions, and improvements to existing inventions. Trademarks include any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from goods manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods. Service marks include any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce, to identify and distinguish the services of one provider from services provided by others, and to indicate the source of the services. Copyrights protect literary, artistic, and musical works.”
So, if you have an invention that you’d like to protect, here’s how to go about doing it:
- See if your invention is patentable.
- Familiarize yourself with the patent process by checking out the USPTO website.
- Perform a patent search to see if your invention has already been patented. (There is a chance that you may have not been the only person in the world to have the same brilliant idea.) I LOVE this tutorial that walks you through the process of patent searching.
- File one of the following types of applications (these definitions taken from USPTO):
- Utility Patent Application
Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or compositions of matters, or any new useful improvement thereof.
- Design Patent Application
Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.
- Plant Patent Application
Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.
- Utility Patent Application
- There are fees to pay associated with each different type of patent ranging from $200-900.
- After submitting your application, you will typically have communication with the office with questions that they may need answered regarding your application. It can take a year or several years to get the patent approved, so best be prepared.
The best advice I can give for filing a patent is to hire an attorney once you are ready to file the application. There are many “apply for a patent” type services online. Not all of them will help you achieve what you want (and some of them are not legitimate services). But, a patent attorney is knowledgeable and experienced with all of the difficult paperwork involved with filing a patent application. You can also search the USPTO website to determine whether the attorney is licensed to practice with their office.
Tomorrow… we’ll discuss copyrights. So come back (pssst… this means you creators of music, photography, and art!)