A patent is a form of intellectual property. It consists of a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention.
Under the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property rights, patents should be available in WTO member states for any invention, in all fields of technology, and the term of protection available should be a minimum of twenty years.
A patent basically provides the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing the patented invention for the term of the patent, which is usually 20 years from the filling date, subject to the payment of maintenance fees.
Patents allow the creator of certain kinds of inventions that contain new ideas to keep others from making commercial use of those ideas without the creator’s permission. For example, Sarah invents a new type of Phone that has fantastic functions. Not only can Sarah keep others from making, selling, or using the precise type of phone she invented, but she may also be able to apply his patent monopoly rights to prevent people from making commercial use of any similar type of phone during the time the patent is in effect (20 years from the date the patent application is filed). (to be continued)
There are three basic types of patents utility patents, design patents, and plant patents.
For all utility patents filed before July 8, 2012, the patent term is 20 years from date of filing, or 17 years from date of issuance, whichever period is longer. For utility patents filed on or after July 8, 2012, the patent term is 20 years from the date of filing. For design patents, the period is 14 years from date of issuance. For plant patents, the period is 17 years from date of issuance.
To qualify for a utility patent, an invention must be;
- A machine (usually something with moving parts or circuitry, such as a cigarette lighter, sewage treatment system, laser, or photocopier)
- A process or method for producing a useful, concrete, and tangible result (such as a genetic engineering procedure, an investment strategy, computer software, or a process for conducting e-commerce on the Internet)
- An article of manufacture (such as an eraser, tire, transistor, or hand tool)
- A composition of matter (such as a chemical composition, drug, soap, or genetically altered life-form)
- An improvement of an invention that fits within one of the first four categories
A patent may expire if its owner fails to pay required maintenance fees. Usually this occurs because attempts to commercially exploit the underlying invention have failed and the patent owner chooses to not throw good money after bad.
Patent protection ends if a patent is found to be invalid. This may happen if someone shows that the patent application was insufficient or that the applicant committed fraud on the PTO, usually by lying or failing to disclose the applicant’s knowledge about prior art that would legally prevent issuance of the patent. A patent may also be invalidated if someone shows that the inventor engaged in illegal conduct when using the patent — such as conspiring with a patent licensee to exclude other companies from competing with them.
Once a patent has expired, the invention described by the patent falls into the public domain: it can be used by anyone without permission from the owner of the expired patent. The basic technologies underlying television and personal computers are good examples of valuable inventions that are no longer covered by in-force patents.
The fact that an invention is in the public domain does not mean that subsequent developments based on the original invention are also in the public domain. Rather, new inventions that improve public domain technology are constantly being conceived and patented. For example, televisions and personal computers that roll off today’s assembly lines employ many recent inventions that are covered by in-force patents.
The following items are just some of the things that might qualify for patent protection: biological inventions; business methods; carpet designs; new chemical formulas, processes, or procedures; clothing accessories and designs; computer hardware and peripherals; computer software; containers; cosmetics; decorative hardware; e-commerce techniques; electrical inventions; electronic circuits; fabrics and fabric designs; food inventions; furniture design; games (board, box, and instructions); housewares; Internet innovations; jewelry; laser light shows; machines; magic tricks or techniques; mechanical inventions; medical accessories and devices; medicines; musical instruments; odors; plants; recreational gear; and sporting goods (designs and equipment).