Understanding how to get a patent is essential if you want your invention to be protected against copying. Patents exist to protect intellectual property, and ensure that unique and innovative ideas can be used by their creators to make money for a reasonable period of time before others can simply copy them.
Patents differ from trademarks and copyrights in that they protect inventions and products, and they are valid for a shorter period of time. Trademarks protect symbols or names, and copyrights protect a specific piece of work, but for a longer period. In the United States, a patent will be valid for 20 years.
The different kinds of patents.
There are three different types of patent.
- Utility patents are awarded to people who invent or discover a new process, way of making something, or machine.
- Design patents are awarded to people who create a new design of ornamental nature.
- Plant patents are awarded to someone that discovers or asexually reproduces a new kind of plant.
What Can Be Patented?
An invention will be considered for a patent application if it is a new idea. You cannot get something patented if, when you applied for the patent, there was already something similar to your invention described in a publicly available publication or available for sale.
You must be able to prove that you came up with the idea, and document it well enough to show what is unique about the idea and how it improves upon other ideas. Patents must be unique compared to things that are available to the general public.
Your work must be unique at the moment in time that you file for a provisional patent application. Anything that someone else puts in after the application that you make will not be considered eligible, because your application will supercede it because of the effective filing date.
You can ask an attorney to file for a patent for you, or you can file a patent yourself. The documentation that is required for filing a patent is complex, and it can be quite time-confusing for you to fill it out yourself. The USPTO will offer help to inventors who want to file for a patent by themselves, without the help of an attorney. However, the USPTO also maintains a list of agents and attorneys who have been vetted by them and who are permitted to file patent applications on the behalf of others. Only someone who is on that list is allowed to file for other parties.
Attorneys may charge more than the USPTO fee for their services, but in return they will do more than tell you how to get a patent. They offer detailed checks, technical drawings and documentation, which increases the chances of the patent being accepted. Considering the complexity of the application process, it makes sense to take advantage of this. If you opt to put in a preliminary patent application then you will have one year following the date of that application to apply for the actual patent, before your PPA expires.