A patent protection grants inventors exclusive property, manufacturing and production rights over their inventions for a statutorily given amount of time by the Government. Patent protection apply to household products, chemicals, plants, and manufacturing tools. The type of invention you are patenting determines the amount and length of protection. Patents are granted for a term of 17 years and 14 years for design patents, which may be extended only by a special act of congress. Unlike copyright, patent protection only protects an invention in the US, so inventors must seek a patent for each country that they wish to do business in. Patents are divided up into three categories: design, plant, and utility.



The patent law provides for the granting of patents in three major categories;
  • Design Patents
  • A design patent is granted for protection of the “visual ornamental characteristics embodied in, or applied to, an article of manufacture.” Design patents can apply to everything from a fashion designer’s latest fabric design to an iPhone skin. Design patents protect everything from, “the configuration or shape of an article, to the surface ornamentation applied to an article, or to the combination of configuration and surface ornamentation.” For more information on design patents, log onto the United States Patent and Trademark Office website. » detail

  • Plant Patents
  • A plant patent is granted to inventors who, “invent or discover and asexually reproduced a distinct and new variety of plant, other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state.” Plant patents are granted to inventors such as the inventors for the newest rose bowl parade rose and for those who create new forms of fruit trees. Plant patents last for 20 years and allow the inventor exclusive creation and manufacturing rights of their plant. The only plant type that cannot be patented are plants that produce asexually through tubers or potato-like plants. For more information on plant patents, log onto United States Patent and Trademark Office's (USPTO) plant patent section. » detail

  • Utility Patents
  • Utility patent protection covers the largest range of patent protection. Types of inventions in this category include useful processes, machines, articles of manufacture, and compositions of matter. Patentable useful processes include new ways of achieving an otherwise inefficient process. For instance, in 2004 an inventor discovered a new way to bond color pigments with steel during the steel’s initial curing phase. This useful process eliminated the need for spray painting during manufacture.

    Compositions of matter include any form of new matter either chemical or biological. Examples in this category include new pharmaceutical drugs, pesticides, and even some foods. The USPTO website has further information concering utility patents and how to obtain one. » detail



Some types of inventions will not qualify for a patent, no matter how interesting or important they are. For example, mathematical formulas, laws of nature, newly discovered substances that occur naturally in the world, and purely theoretical phenomena -- for instance, a scientific principle like superconductivity -- have long been considered unpatentable. In addition, the following categories of inventions don't qualify for patents:
  • processes done entirely by human motor coordination, such as choreographed dance routines or a method for meditation
  • most protocols and methods used to perform surgery on humans
  • printed matter that has no unique physical shape or structure associated with it
  • unsafe new drugs
  • inventions useful only for illegal purposes, and
  • non-operable inventions, including "perpetual motion" machines (which are presumed to be non-operable because to operate they would have to violate certain bedrock scientific principles).



Yes. Even though you can't get a patent on a mathematical formula per se, you may be able to get protection for a specific application of a formula. Thus, software may qualify for a patent if the patent application produces a useful, concrete, and tangible result. For example, the USPTO will not issue a patent on the complex mathematical formulas that are used in space navigation, but will grant a patent for the software and machines that translate those equations and make the space shuttle go where its supposed to go.



In the context of a patent application, an invention is considered novel when it is different from all previous inventions (called "prior art") in one or more of its constituent elements. When deciding whether an invention is novel, the USPTO will consider all prior art that existed as of the date the inventor files a patent application on the invention. If prior art is uncovered, the invention may still qualify for a patent if the inventor can show that he or she conceived of the invention before the prior art existed and was diligent in building and testing the invention or filing a patent application on it. An invention will flunk the novelty test if it was described in a published document or put to public use more than one year prior to the date the patent application was filed. This is known as the one-year.



To qualify for a patent, an invention must be nonobvious as well as novel. An invention is considered nonobvious if someone who is skilled in the particular field of the invention would view it as an unexpected or surprising development. For example, in August 2006, Future Enterprises invents a portable, high-quality, virtual reality system that can be manufactured for under $100. A virtual reality engineer would most likely find this invention to be truly surprising and unexpected. Even though increased portability of a computer-based technology is always expected in the broad sense, the specific way in which the portability is accomplished by this invention would be a breakthrough in the field, and thus unobvious. Contrast this with a bicycle developer who uses a new, light-but-strong metal alloy to build his bicycles. Most people skilled in the art of bicycle manufacturing would consider the use of the new alloy in the bicycle to be obvious, given that lightness of weight is a desirable aspect of high-quality bicycles.

Knowing whether an invention will be considered nonobvious by the USPTO is difficult because it is such a subjective exercise -- what one patent examiner considers surprising, another may not. In addition, the examiner will usually be asked to make the nonobviousness determination well after the date of the invention, because of delays inherent in the patent process. The danger of this type of retroactive assessment is that the examiner may unconsciously be affected by the intervening technical improvements. To avoid this, the examiner generally relies only on the prior art references (documents describing previous inventions) that existed as of the date of invention. As an example, assume that in 2009, Future Enterprises' application for a patent on the 2006 invention is being examined in the Patent and Trademark Office. Assume further that by 2009, you can find a portable virtual reality unit in any consumer electronics store for under $100. The patent examiner will have to go back to the time of the invention to fully appreciate how surprising and unexpected it was when it was first conceived, and ignore the fact that in 2009 the technology of the invention is very common. For more information on novel and nonobvious inventions, visit USPTO » detail



An invention is useful if it provides some practical benefit, or helps people complete real world tasks. However, patents may be granted for inventions even if their use is merely humorous, such as a musical condom or a motorized spaghetti fork.

To fulfill this requirement, the invention must work -- at least in theory. Thus, a new approach to manufacturing superconducting materials may qualify for a patent if it has a sound theoretical basis -- even if it hasn't yet been shown to work in practice. But a new drug that has no theoretical basis and which has not yet been tested will not qualify for a patent.

Only a utility patent requires an invention to be useful: To qualify for a design or plant patent -- the other two types of patents obtained in the U.S. -- the inventor need not show utility.



Patents are granted only to the true inventor. Methods of doing business and printed matter cannot be patented. A patent cannot be obtained on a mere idea or suggestion. visit the USPTO for more information. » detail



A valid patent may not be obtained if the invention was in public use or on sale in this country (USA) for more than one year prior to the filing of your application. your own use and sale of the invention for more than a year before your application is filed will bar your right to a patent just as effectively as though this use and sale had been done by someone else. For more information on when to obtain a patent and patent application, visit USPTO. » detail



The inventor may sell all or part of his /her interest in the patent application or patent to anyone by a properly worded assignment. The application must be filed in the U.S Patent and Trade mark Office as the invention of the true inventor, however, and not as the invention of the person who as purchased the invention from the inventor.



The Patent and Trademark Office will answere an applicant's inquiries about the status of an application, but if you have an attorney or agwnt, correspondence should be forwarded through them. It is not necessary to come to the office in person, as most businesses is conducted through correspondence. The PTO does not have field offices. all correspondence should be addressed to commissioner of Patent and Trademarks, Washington, DC 20231.
  • For further information on Patents and Trademarks, Please visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office at:
  • The United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office at:


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