|Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks|
Patent, Copyright and Trademark are three of the most often confused terms in U.S. government. While all three protect your rights to own, use and potentially make money from things you create, which one do you need and how do you get it?
Who Needs Patents?
Patents are sought by persons who invent or discover new and useful devices, processes or chemical compounds, or improvements to existing devices, processes or chemical compounds. "Plant patents" are also issued for new and distinct varieties of plants.
What a Patent Does
Patents grant inventors the right to exclude or prevent others from "making, using, offering for sale, or selling" the invention in the U.S. or importing the invention into the United States. Patents are generally granted for a period of 20 years and must be enforced by the person holding the patent. The government does not help inventors enforce their patents. U.S. patents apply only
Patents are issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Many of the Web links that follow refer to the their Web site.
The Three Types of Patents
Utility Patents - The most common type of patent, utility patents are issued to inventors of new devices and processes or improvements to existing devices or processes. Most utility patents are issued for inventions that improve existing devices. Inventors of the proverbial "better mousetrap," seek utility patents.
Design Patents - are issued to inventors of "new, original, and ornamental designs" of existing devices or "articles of manufacture." For example, if you design an ornamental telephone that in no way improves or changes the basic function of the telephone, you might seek a design patent.
Plant Patents - are issued to persons who invent or discover, and are able to reproduce, any distinct and new variety of plant. The inventor of a blue rose, for example, would definitely seek a plant patent.
What Can and Cannot be Patented?
Ideas or suggestions cannot be patented. Also, under the The Atomic Energy Act of 1954, patents cannot be granted for anything dealing with atomic weapons. [Details on what can and cannot be patented]
Applying for a Patent
Let's turn it over to the experts at this point. The links below lead to official information from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
- Detailed Information on
Links to virtually everything you need to know about applying for and enforcing a patent.
May Apply for a Patent?
With a few exceptions, only the actual inventor may apply for a patent.
- How To Apply for
Complete details on the process of preparing and filing applications for Utility, Design and Plant patents. You can even file for Utility patents electronically.
- Patent Forms
All forms are available in Adobe's PDF format for viewing and printing.
- Search for Patents and
Applications for Patents
Are you the first person to think of your invention? Locate existing patents issued since 1790 and applications for new patents filed since March 15, 2001.
- Filing Fees and Information
Attorneys & Agents
Getting and protecting a patent can be daunting and confusing tasks. Many inventors find the need for expert attorneys and agents.
- Patent Laws and
Including the American Inventors Protection Act of 1999.
For More Information
Questions of a general nature only can be answered by Patent Assistance Center telephone service. Telephone numbers are: Toll Free - 800-PTO-9199 (800-786-9199) or 703-308-HELP (703-308-4357). Hours of Operation: Monday - Friday 8:30 AM - 5:00 PM (Eastern Time Zone).
For detailed or technical questions should refer to the Patent Office's Contact Us Web page.
In addition, general inquiries about the patent and trademark systems, as well as the products and services of the USPTO may be mailed to:
General Information Services Division
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Crystal Plaza 3, Room 2C02
Washington, DC 20231