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Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks
Part 1: Patents 
 More of this Feature
• Part 2: Copyrights
• Part 3: Trademarks
 
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US Patent and Trademark Office

US Copyright Office

American Inventors Protection Act of 1999

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• Is Congress Mickey Mouse-ing With Copyrights? (Law.com)

• National Inventors Hall of Fame

The Patent Cafe - Resources for Inventors
 
 

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.

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

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