Have you ever had a great idea that you wanted to protect? Chances are you may not have known exactly how to protect the idea or even if it could be protected. In many cases, the idea may be protected by obtaining a patent. A patent is a type of intellectual property and can provide value to its owner in a number of different ways. Patents can be bought and sold just like other property. Additionally, a patent owner may grant licenses to others, which allow the licensee to practice the invention protected by the claims of the patent without infringing the patent. A patent owner may profit be declining to license the invention protected by the patent, instead opting to be the sole source from whom others may purchase the invention. If somebody makes, uses, sells, or imports something that is protected by your patent, you may sue the person for patent infringement.
Several different types of patents are available. Utility patents can protect devices, systems, software, methods, and other inventive concepts. Design patents can protect the ornamental, non-functional design of devices. Once a patent is obtained, and for the duration of the life of the patent, the patent owner has the exclusive right to practice the invention contained in claims of the patent.
The process of applying for any type of patent protection normally begins with a patent search. This search should involve a patent professional reviewing available prior art to determine if your invention has been previously disclosed by anybody else. Conducting a patent search early in the inventive process can be beneficial by helping the inventor determine what has and has not been invented before. This knowledge can help the inventor determine whether proceeding with a patent application is a good business decision. If the results from the patent search indicate to the inventor that a patent may be beneficial, a patent attorney or a patent agent can prepare a patent application, which will be filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Patent examiners at the USPTO will examine the patent application during the patent prosecution phase. Patent prosecution often takes two to three years and involves written arguments, and sometimes interviews, between the patent examiner and the patent professional representing the inventor. At the conclusion of patent prosecution, the patent examiner will determine if the invention included in the patent application will receive patent protection. If a patent issues, the patent owner is required to enforce to patent to prevent infringement and may be required to pay scheduled fees to maintain the patent.
Consultation with a patent professional can help you determine if patent protection is appropriate for your idea.