Patent protection gives the inventor of the patented subject matter the exclusive right to make, use, sell, or import the subject matter claimed in the patent for a certain period of time. The duration of the grant of exclusivity depends upon the type of patent that was issued. Utility patents are awarded by the United States government and may be issued for inventions that are novel, non-obvious, and useful. To determine if any invention is novel, it is important to become familiar with what has already been invented. To do this, a patent search is often performed before an inventor decides to file a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Even when the subject matter of a patent application is novel, non-obvious, and useful, a valid utility patent cannot be awarded in certain circumstances. For example, if an inventor publically discloses or offers his or her invention for sale and then waits more than a year to file a patent application, the inventor is barred by federal statutes from obtaining a patent. Consulting with a patent attorney as early in the inventive process as possible may be beneficial to help the inventor develop a plan, such as requiring the use of a non-disclosure agreement, that will protect his or her rights.
In some instances when a utility patent may not be appropriate, an inventor can secure the exclusive right to his or her invention by obtaining a design patent. Design patents cover the ornamental design of a device rather than the structure of the device itself. In other instances, it may be most desirable to maintain a trade secret rather than publicly disclose an invention in a patent application.
For more information on obtaining patent protection or to find out if patent protection is the best option for your invention, contact Kelly G. Swartz to schedule a consultation.