Written by Jesson & Rains attorney, Kelly Rains Jesson
This is the third installment out of our intellectual property series. The fourth and final article will be about protecting trade secrets and confidential information using contracts.
A patent is a federally-issued form of intellectual property protection granted to inventors of unique designs and processes. The patent prevents other individuals and companies from making or selling the invention for 14 to 20 years. An inventor must apply for a patent within one year of publicly disclosing the invention. A patent is public record information, so while the invention is protected, it is not secret.
The two main types of patents are utility patents and design patents. A utility patent is a machine, process, or component part thereof used to make a product. A design patent is the unique design of the product itself. The design patent covers only the appearance of the product and not the structural or functional features (that would be a utility patent). An example of a design patent is a glass soda bottle. A design patent lasts for fourteen years.
A utility patent is the most common type of patent. In addition to machines, processes, and component parts, utility patents are also issued for inventors of improved existing patents. The improvement must be non-obvious to a person having ordinary skill in the same area of technology related to the invention. For example, a person cannot simply change the color of a machine and get approved for a new patent.
Utility patents must be useful, serve a legal purpose, and be “novel.” If a substantially similar process or product has been marketed in the past year, the application will be rejected. It must be man-made—naturally occurring things cannot be patented. Also, the product or process must actually work. Patents will not be issued for ideas, theories, and inventions that do not work. A utility patent lasts for twenty years.
Unlike copyrights and trademarks, there are no state versions of patents (only federal) and there is no common law protection. You do not get a patent simply by inventing something—you must apply and be granted a patent by the federal government.
If you have any questions about protecting your intellectual property, give Jesson & Rains a call!
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