A Process of Finding Patenting, Manufacturing, Selling, and Licensing Help!
The Patent Process
Patents: The Process of Acquiring a Patent

A patent is a set of rights granted by the government to an inventor that bars other people from making, selling, using or benefitting from an invention without the consent of the inventor. It is a form of intellectual property given in exchange for public disclosure of the invention details, and for a limited period of time. Patents can be awarded to an individual inventor, a team of inventors or a corporation. There is no age limit as to who can apply for a patent, but it has to be granted to become the inventor's property.

There are three main different types of patents namely:

Utility Patent: This is granted for new and useful inventions in one or more of five categories namely: a process, manufacture, machine, composition of matter and an improvement of an existing idea. Examples of ideas that fall under utility patents are computer hardware and software, electronics and electrical circuits, cosmetics, chemical formulas and processes or procedures of doing something among others. This type of patent is granted for 20 years from the date of filing the application.

Design Patent: This type of patent is awarded for a new and original product design. A good example is the IKEA chair design patent. This patent prevents other people from making use of the design in any way. It is granted for 14 years from the date of issue.

Plant Patent: This is a rare patent issued for inventing asexually reproducible plants. This could be through cultivation and/or breeding to create hybrids. This type of patent is also issued for 20 years from the date of filing the application.

How to Acquire a Patent

Acquiring a patent requires filing an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This is a long, costly and technical process that may require the services of a patents attorney or agent to assist with the various stages. The steps of applying for and acquiring a patent include:

1. Determining Whether the Invention is Patentable

Not every idea that claims originality can be patented. USPTO follows a certain criterion to determine whether an idea is patentable. For an invention to be patented, it must:

- Be novel

- Have an innovative component that is not obvious to experts on the subject matter

- Have proof of being usable in an industry

- Be described adequately for an ordinary skilled person to make sense of and be able to use the invention

- Be applied for by the inventor

Inventions that are not patentable include:

- Physical occurrences

- Literary, musical, dramatic and artistic ideas

- Intellectual ideas

- Laws of nature

- Inventions that are not useful

- Inventions that are morally offensive

Aside from this basic criterion, originality of the invention has to be ascertained before a patent can be issued. This is done by carrying out a thorough patent search from patents databases, to ensure that the idea has not been patented by someone else. One of the main databases to search is the USPTO website as contains information on all ideas whose patents have been applied for or granted in that office. The Google patent search feature can also enable an applicant to compare similar inventions from the globe to determine whether the invention is original. Another useful resource for ascertaining originality is a patents depository library. This should have a record of patented ideas for the applicant to cross check. Aside from these three, a careful look at scientific and technical journals will also ensure that the idea has not been conceived by someone else.

2. Determining the Type of Patent to File For

Once the originality of an idea has been ascertained, the process of applying for a patent begins. The applicant needs to decide the type of patent they are applying for and the category under which the patent will be applied. Only one type of patent can be applied for a single invention. This is especially in relation to utility patents that can fall in one of the five categories. The applicant needs to decide which category to apply the patent in. 

3. Filing a Patent Application

There are two main types of patent applications that can be filed;

Provisional Patent Application: This is a temporary application filed by an inventor who is still working on their idea. It prevents patent theft before the invention is complete. This application grants the invention the title “patent pending” and must be upgraded to a regular patent application in one year after which the title no longer applies.

Regular Patent Application: This is the main patent application for complete inventions. It is more costly than the provisional one and could take a while to process.

Filing a provisional application is not mandatory. However, a regular application must be filed for a patent to be granted. This type of application is detailed. It requires a comprehensive description of the invention, how the invention works and how it can be used in the society. Stages of the invention are supposed to be clearly described and where necessary, diagrams of the invention must be provided. The application should also include the identities and addresses of all the inventors involved. Once the application is complete, a lawyer should look through it to ensure that everything is correct.

The complete patent application is filed electronically or manually upon paying a non-refundable patent filing fee. A regular patent application can only be filed by the inventor. Once the patent has been filed, it will be examined by the United States Patents and Trademark Office to determine whether it will be granted or denied. This is a process that could take years. Applicants have the option of filing for an expedited examination at an additional cost to speed up the process. If the patent is granted, the inventor gains exclusive rights to the invention for the period of the patent.

Utility patents attract an issuance fee payable upon being granted the patent, and a maintenance fee payable 3 1/2, 7 1/2 and 11 1/2 years after the patent is granted. This fee maintains the legal protection of the patent. Plant and design patents do not attract maintenance fees.