Patent Definition

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Subject Matter Experts

Updated on June 08, 2023

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A patent is a form of intellectual property that protects an invention. It gives the inventor exclusive rights to produce, use and sell their invention for a set period.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the governmental agency responsible for granting patents.

Types of Patents

There are three types of patents:

  • Utility patents protect the functional aspects of an invention. They can be used to give inventors control over how, why, and when their device is used.

    Utility patents include machines, processes, or chemical compositions that provide a new way to solve a problem in our day-to-day lives.
  • Design patents protect the ornamental features of a device. They do not cover how an invention works but instead protect its unique shape and appearance.

    Design patents may be used to give inventors control over the way their product looks without infringing on other copyrights or trademarks related to trademarked logos or artwork.
  • Plant patents are applied for through the USPTO to protect new types of plants.

    The patent only applies to asexually reproduced plants, meaning that seeds and cuttings from the plant are not covered under this type of protection.

    Plant and utility patents have a 20-year term, while design patent terms are 14 to 15 years.

Patent Protection Basics - What Does It Cover?

  • A patent gives the inventor exclusive rights to produce, use and sell their invention for a set period.

An inventor cannot stop other people from using or producing their own version of an idea if it is not patented.

This means that if you don’t keep up with your renewal fees, another inventor can come along and produce a similar product without infringing on your trademark.

  • Patents can be licensed to other people for a fee.

The inventor has the right to license their trademark and may choose whether or not they want to charge others who wish to use it in exchange for royalties.

For example, if you invent a new backpack design that incorporates straps adjustable by zippers, your patent would cover how those straps are attached, not the design of your trademarked zipper or backpack itself.

  • Patents are only good in the country that they were granted.

Patent protection is limited to a single geographic location, which means you cannot take your patent internationally and expect it to be recognized throughout every country where you would like to sell or license your product.

What Steps Do I Have to Take for Patent Protection?

Steps to Take for Patent Protection

Step 1: Determine what kind of intellectual property protection you need.

Your options are patent, trademark, copyright, marketing plan, trade secrets, or some combination of these, each offering protection in different ways depending on the nature of the device being invented.

If you do not know yet, discuss the issue with an attorney, and they will be able to help determine your best course of action.

Step 2: Search for similar patents that others have already submitted through credible sources like Google Patent search.

This is important because someone else may have had the same idea as you but filed it earlier.

Step 3: Determine what kind of patent do you need.

There are three types of patent protection you can get depending on your invention: utility patent, design patent, and plant patent.

Step 4: Apply online or through an attorney.

The official USPTO website has a step-by-step guide for filing the application process online or requesting assistance from their staff, depending on your needs and eligibility.

Step 5: Get ready to submit your initial application.

Prepare a drawing of your device with measurements and color representation, if necessary. Provide a specification sheet that includes a detailed description of the invention in writing.

Keep in mind that this document will be used to determine whether or not you are granted protection for your idea. The official website also has a list of fees that you must pay to the USPTO for your patent application to be filed.

Step 6: The USPTO will assign you a patent examiner to work with during the process.

Your examiner will either approve or reject your application for patent protection.

Step 7: Maintain your Patent

Pay maintenance fees for as long as your patent is valid. This will help prevent others from profiting from your invention and ensure that you maintain the rights to it.

This will also protect you against any infringement action should someone else try to copy or produce a similar device without permission.

Why Are Patents Important for Inventors and Entrepreneurs?

Patents provide an inventor with the exclusive right to produce, use and sell their invention.

This allows them to profit from their work while also protecting it from infringement by other parties. It helps protect the intellectual property rights of inventors and ensures that they receive credit for their creations.

Patents provide third parties with accurate information about how an invention works without infringing on its rights.

This can increase sales by protecting intellectual property from competitors who might steal ideas instead of developing them independently.

Patents also provide peace of mind knowing no one else will copy your idea during market research or product development stages before you begin production or sell it yourself.

It also makes it easier to trademark inventions as they protect brand names and logos associated with products under patent protection.

Advantages of Patents for Inventors and Entrepreneurs

Patents offer the following advantages to owners:

  • They can sue anyone who infringes on their patent rights - even if they do not know where the infringement occurred; this is called "patent marking".

This means that an inventor does not need to be present in the location of infringement to take legal action.

  • They can license their patent rights, which means allowing others to use them for a fee or royalty.
  • They can use the patent to stop others from making or selling their invention.

The Bottom Line

Patents are a form of intellectual property that gives inventors exclusive rights to their creation for a set period of time.

Patents offer owners the opportunity to stop others from infringing on their patent rights, license them and allow others to sell or use them at will.

Knowing how patents work is an essential step for both inventors and entrepreneurs.

Patent FAQs

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website or view his author profiles on Amazon, Nasdaq and Forbes.

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