What is a Patent?

A patent gives its owner (usually the inventor or the company that has rights to the inventions) an often very valuable and powerful property right. The “right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale or selling” the inventions covered by the claims of your patent or “importing” the invention into the country you have a patent. A U.S. patent is issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office or USPTO (visit the USPTO at http://www.uspto.gov/ ).  Newly issued utility and plant patents give the owner the powerful right to exclude for 20 years from the date an earlier related application was filed or the date you file the application with the USPTO.  Newly filed design patents give the owner the powerful right to exclude for 15 years from the day the patent is granted.  A patent term can only be extended by the USPTO, usually because the USPTO caused some delays in the application.  When this occurs, the USPTO usually provides a patent term extension which extends the term of your patent.   Once granted, the owner of a utility or plant patent must make sure to pay any maintenance fees due and must proactively enforce its patent rights. Design patents do not require maintenance fees.  The USPTO does not monitor or enforce others patent or other intellectual property rights.

Newly issued utility and plant patents give the owner the powerful right to exclude for 20 years from the date an earlier related application was filed or the date you file the application with the USPTO.  Newly filed design patents give the owner the powerful right to exclude for 14 years from the day the patent is granted.  A patent term can only be extended by the USPTO, usually because the USPTO caused some delays in the application.  When this occurs, the USPTO usually provides a patent term extension which extends the term of your patent.   Once granted, the owner of a utility or plant patent must make sure to pay any maintenance fees due and must proactively enforce its patent rights. Design patents do not require maintenance fees.  The USPTO does not monitor or enforce others patent or other intellectual property rights.

The rights in your patent are only effective within the country which you obtain the patent.  You can apply for patent protect in each every country individually.  A patent does not give you the right to make, use, sell or import your invention.  It is only the right to exclude others from doing so.  There are three kinds of patent applications that can be filed.

  1. A Utility patent protects any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof. As the name suggests, a “utility” patent covers the function or utility of a process, machine, article or composition. Common examples are medical devices, cell phones, industrial and medical processes and methods and health and wellness compositions.
  2. A Design patent protects a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. As the name suggests, a design patent covers the design or look of an article. Some examples include clothing, pattern designs, art (e.g., sculpture), furniture, car parts, sporting goods, cosmetics and essentially any physical item that has ornamental design.
  3. A Plant patent is given to an inventor who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant. As the name suggests, a plant patent covers a new type of asexually reproducing plant. Examples of these patents include hybrid and mutant plants.

USPTO Patent Process

Once you have prepared and submitted your application, your application will be reviewed for technical formalities and if there are no issues, you will receive a filing receipt.  Then the application will be assigned to a particular art unit and Examiner.  From the time you file to the time the application is examined by the Examiner, you often have to wait more than 1 year.  Once the Examiner assigned to your case reviews your application, in more than 99% of cases, the Office responds with an “Office Action” which includes detailed “rejections” of why the claims of your application will not be allowed.  You must respond to all the rejections in an Office Action substantively and in a timely manner (usually 3 months without paying extension of time fees and up to 6 months with payment of extension of time fees) or you application will go forever abandoned.

Once your application has been approved as complete, you will be assigned a patent examiner who will review your application to see if it meets the requirements under the patent laws, specifically the relevant provisions of 35 U.S.C.  When and if all the rejections are overcome, the Examiner will issue an “Notice of Allowance” identifying the claims that have been allowed and you will have to pay the issue fee and file necessary documents for the patent to proceed to issuance.  You often have to respond to more than one Office Action before an application is allowed.  If your application is denied multiple times and you receive a Final Office Action, you may appeal your Examiner’s decision to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.

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