A patent is a group of rights, conferred by the federal government, to inventors that create new, useful, and non-obvious inventions. Generally, a patent does not entitle the inventor to use (practice) the invention, rather it confers the right to prevent others from using it. The policy behind the patent system is to encourage inventors to disclose their ideas to the public. In return for disclosure, inventors get 20 years of market exclusivity.
The patent process generally proceeds as follows.
- Search: The Prior Art search is performed in order to ascertain what other inventions or information exists that is similar to the invention at issue. A good prior art search is a smart investment as it allows for strategic claim drafting and it minimizes uncertainty later in the process.
- Drafting: The drafting process comprises writing, drawing and otherwise describing the invention at issue. Drafting a patent is a technical process as the finished patent application must comply with various statutory requirements. A utility patent application must contain a Specification, Claims and Drawings.
- Filing: Submitting the completed patent application and supporting documents, according the the U.S. Patent Office’s formalities.
- Information Disclosure: The information disclosure statement (IDS) is the mechanism for fulfilling the duty of candor to the USPTO. The IDS must be submitted and will include all information relating to the invention at issue, including any prior art uncovered in a prior art search.
- Prosecution within the USPTO: Once the application is submitted to the USPTO, an examiner will perform a search, and examine the application for patentability. The examiner can object, reject or approve the application as a whole or in part. Office actions, Interviews, and Responses are all part of prosecution within the USPTO. Other requirements may also arise during prosecution including, Continuations, Divisionals, Appeals, and Foreign Filings. Once prosecution starts, the outcome will be either issuance as a patent or abandonment of the application.
- Issuance and Maintenance: Once the USPTO and the inventor come to an agreement on the substance of the patent application, the patent will be finally checked for correctness and printed. Maintenance fees are due at 4, 8, and 12 years from issuance. Similar fees are required for trademarks at years 6 and 10.
Prior Art / Patentability Search
The prior art search (sometimes called a patentability or landscape search) will uncover other inventions that may affect your ability to patent your invention. While a patent search is not a mandatory part of the patent process, the search can be a valuable tool for evaluating the chances of success in the patent office and the marketplace. Many inventors and patent professionals recommend conducting a patent search to test the waters before committing resources to filing a Utility Patent. An additional benefit of having a patent search done is that it can identify potential customers, licensees and strategic partners.
KEY BENEFITS OF THE PATENT SEARCH:
- Learn about the prior art to assess patentability
- Get new ideas
- Develop market information
- Track competitors
- Identify strategic partners and potential licensees
Provisional Patent Application
A Provisional Patent Application is the fastest and least expensive way to get on file with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO,) and get “patent pending” status. A Provisional Patent locks in an early filing date and can be a real deterrent against potential infringers. Many inventors and corporations file Provisional Patents while they do market and product development research on a product. Further many product development experts will not enter prototyping discussions until a Provisional Patent is on file. It is important to understand that in order to acquire the full benefits of patent protection; a Utility Patent must be filed within 1 year of filing the Provisional Patent.
KEY BENEFITS OF A PROVISIONAL PATENT:
- Immediate patent pending status
- Lowest cost option
- Lock in earliest possible filing date
- Deterrent to potential infringers
- Provides a 1 year window for market and product development research
Utility Patent Application
A Utility Patent gives you the right to stop others from making, using or selling your invention for a period of 20 years. In order to be patentable, an invention must be new, useful and non-obvious. If you are serious about protecting your invention, a utility patent is a must.
KEY BENEFITS OF A UTILITY PATENT:
- Prevent others from making, using and selling your invention
- 20 years of protection
- Protects the functional aspects of the invention
- Increase the value of your company
- Protect many variations of a product in a single patent