Have an idea for a disruptive new product, or maybe a product improvement? Before you think of manufacturing and selling it, you should apply for a patent. A patent protects your rights to something you have invented, and it’s different from a trademark that identifies the company or a copyright that protects music, art or writing.
To get a patent for your idea, you’ll need to file an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, either online or through mail-in forms. Some applications are not currently accepted online.
WE THREE PATENTS
There are three types of patents available. The first is a utility patent for an invention that is a process, a machine, a product or an improvement for any of these (including chemical products). The second is a design patent for a new or original design for a manufactured product. The last is a plant patent for a new plant that has been invented or discovered and reproduced by non-sexual means.
The patent process requires documentation, research to show your idea is original and the payment of number of fees, so be fairly confident that your invention hasn’t been done already before you apply for a patent. Your product also needs to be marketable (in the sense that there is a demand in the marketplace).
PREPARE FOR PAPERWORK
If you decide to file for a patent, you’ll need an attorney who specializes in patents to help you prepare the documents, but you as the inventor can file a Provisional Patent Application (PPA) which lasts up to a year and has an affordable fee. This allows you to market the product and say a patent is pending while you work on the un-provisional patent application.
The U.S. Patent Office requires a bunch of forms to be filled out. An application for a utility patent, for example, would include a specification that describes your product, a claim that states what protections you want, drawings to describe the product, a declaration that you are the inventor, and filing, search and review fees, along with transmittal letters for all these.
The claim is very important, so consult an attorney to make sure you’re asking for the right protections.
WHERE THERE’S A WILL
A patent is personal property, and all or a part interest in it can be sold, bequeathed in a will, etc., with the appropriate legal documents. Protections granted through patent laws last for twenty years, and can involve either individual or joint ownership. Anyone who has helped with development of an invention has to be named as a part owner.
If you’re working for a company when you develop an invention, be sure you know whether your work will be considered “work for hire” which is owned by the company. Assignment of a patent means transfer of all rights of ownership to another owner, and licensing is the transfer of some rights, usually in return for payment. After you receive a patent, you’ll need to pay a maintenance fee to continue the patent protections.
The patent laws protect your rights, but it’s up to you to enforce them.
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