What is a patent?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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A patent is a grant of a property right by the government to the inventor. The U.S. government allows for patents in order to encourage useful inventions. The patent itself provides a detailed description of the invention and how it is used or how to make it. Thus, if you obtain a patent, you cannot keep the details of the invention secret, this is the basis for trade secret law.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the government agency charged with examining patent applications and giving out patents. This means that all patent applications go to the federal, not the state government.

Patents give their holder the exclusive right to “exclude others from making, using, offering to sell, selling, or importing into the United States the subject matter that is within the scope of protection granted by the patent.” In other words, you will have sole discretion over when, who, and how your invention is manufactured, allowing you to gain optimal profit from its manufacturing. In the United States, the rights gained by a patent last for 20 years for utility and plant patents, and 14 years for design patents.

The United States only has jurisdiction over itself for patent creation and enforcement. If you intend to manufacturer or market your product in other countries, you will need to obtain a separate patent from each country. This can be done for most countries through the World Trade Organization, as they offer a universal patent form and will assist with sending the patent information to the proper authorities. For countries outside of the World Trade Organization, you will need to retain a patent attorney in the United States and one in the country where you are applying.

If you have further questions concerning what a patent is, when to apply for one, or how to go about obtaining a patent, consult with a patent attorney.

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