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How to Patent an Idea or Invention

A Step by Step Guide to Registering a Patent

How to Patent an Idea or InventionThis guide will walk you step by step through all the essential phases of registering a patent.

Because of the tremendous development and complexity of technology, products, and processes, businesses should be familiar with patent protection and procedures. It is important to understand patent rights and the relationships among a business, an inventor, and the Patent and Trademark Office to assure protec­tion of your product and to avoid or win infringement suits. This guide gives some basic facts about patents to help clarify your rights in this important legal area.

Table of Contents

1. What is a Patent?
2. First Steps
3. Points of Caution
4. Application for a Patent
5. Plant Patents

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Sample Content

Because of the tremendous development and complexity of technology, products, and processes, manufacturers should be familiar with patent protection and procedures. It is important to understand patent rights and the relationships among a business, an inventor, and the Patent and Trademark Office to assure protec­tion of your product and to avoid or win infringement suits. This guide gives some basic facts about patents to help clarify your rights in this important legal area.
To understand the details of patent procedure you should at the start know what a patent is and distinguish among patents, trademarks, and copyrights.

A patent is an exclusive property right to an invention. It gives an inventor the right to exclude others from making, using or selling an invention for a period of seventeen years in the United States, its territories, and possessions. A patent cannot be renewed except by act of Congress. Design patents for ornamental devices are granted for 3.5, 7 or 14 years - as th Because of the tremendous development and complexity of technology, products, and processes, manufacturers should be familiar with patent protection and procedures. It is important to understand patent rights and the relationships among a business, an inventor, and the Patent and Trademark Office to assure protection of your product and to avoid or win infringement suits. This guide gives some basic facts about patents to help clarify your rights in this important legal area.
To understand the details of patent procedure you should at the start know what a patent is and distinguish among patents, trademarks, and copyrights.

A patent is an exclusive property right to an invention. It gives an inventor the right to exclude others from making, using or selling an invention for a period of seventeen years in the United States, its territories, and possessions. A patent cannot be renewed except by act of Congress. Design patents for ornamental devices are granted for 3.5, 7 or 14 years - as the applicant elects.
Trademarks are also registered by the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks on application by individuals or companies who distinguish, by name or symbol, a product used in commerce subject to regulation by Congress. They can be registered for a period of twenty years.
Copyrights, administered by the Copyright Office (Library of Congress, Washington, DC), protect authors, composers, and artists from the "pirating" of their literary and artistic work.

First Steps

When you get an idea for a product or process that you think is mechanically sound and likely to be profitable, write down your idea. Consider specifically what about your new device is original or patentable and superior to similar devices already on the market (and patented). Your idea should be written in a way that provides legal evidence of its origin because your claim could be challenged later. Next you need help to determine your device's novelty and to make a proper application for a patent.
Professional Assistance. Professional assistance is recommended strongly because patent procedures are quite detailed. Also, you may not know how to make use of all the technical advantages available. For instance, you may not claim broad enough protection for your device. As a rule therefore, it is best to have your application filed by a patent lawyer or agent.
Only attorneys and agents who are registered with the Patent Office may prosecute an application. It will not, however recommend any particular attorney or agent, nor will it assume responsibility for your selection.
Establishing Novelty. This is one of the most crucial and difficult determinations to make, involving two things: 1) analyzing the device according to specified standards and 2) seeing whether or not anyone else has patented it first. The only sure way of accomplishing this is to make a search of Patent Office files.
Analyzing your device. This should be done according to the following standards of what is patentable:
(1) Any new, useful, and unobvious process (primarily industrial or technical); machine; manufacture or composition of matter (generally chemical compounds, formulas, and the like); or any new, useful, and unobvious improvement thereof;
(2) Any new and unobvious original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture, such as a new auto body design, (Note that a design patent may not always turn out to be valuable because a commercially similar design can easily be made without infringing the patent);
(3) Any distinct and new variety of plant, other than tubes-propagated, which is asexually reproduced.
Another way of analyzing your product is to consider it in relation to what is not patentable, as follows:
(1) An idea (as opposed to a mechanical device);
(2) A method of doing business (such as the assembly line system; however, any structural or mechanical innovations employed might constitute patentable subject matter;
(3) Printed matter (covered by copyright law);
(4) An inoperable device;
(5) An improvement in a device which is obvious or the result of mere mechanical skill (a new assembly of old parts or an adaptation of an old principle - aluminum window frames instead of the conventional wood).
Applications for patents on machines or processes for producing fissionable material can be filed with the Patent and Trademark Office. In most instances, however, such applications might be withheld if the subject matter affects national security and for that reason should not be made public.
The invention should also be tested for novelty by the following criteria:
(1) Whether or not known or used by others in this country before the invention by the applicant;
(2) Whether or not patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country before the invention by the applicant;
(3) Whether or not described in a printed publication more than one year prior to the date of application for patent in the United States.
(4) Whether or not in public use or on sale in the country more than one year prior to the date of application for patent in the United States.
These points are important. For example, if you describe a new device in a printed publication or use it publicly or place it on sale, you must apply for a patent before one year has gone by; otherwise you lose any right to a patent.
Although marking your product "patent pending" after you have applied has no legal protective effect, it often tends to ward off potential infringers.
Search of existing patents and technical literature. It is not necessary for you or your attorney to travel personally to Arlington, VA to make a search of Patent and Trademark Office files. Arrangements can be made with associates in Arlington, VA to have this done.
Only the files of patents granted are open to the public. Pending applications are kept in strictest secrecy and no access is given to them except on written authority of the applicants or their duly authorized representatives. Existing patents may be consulted in the Search Room of the Patent and Trademark Office where records of over 4,000,000 patents issued since 1836 are maintained. In addition, over 9,000,000 copies of foreign patents may also be seen in the Patent Library. That library contains a quantity of scientific books and periodicals which may carry a description of your idea and thus affect its patentability.
A search of patents, besides indicating whether or not your device is patentable, may also prove informative. It may disclose patents superior to your device but not already in production which might profitably be manufactured and sold by your company. A valuable business association may result.

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