Introduction to Topics in Patent Law
Inventors know the importance of patent law, but even though it might seem pretty clear cut at first glance, there are many topics and issues of patent law worth noting. Inventors must pass five requirements to qualify for a patent, and that patent in theory offers protection from infringement by other people or companies. Understanding the intricate topics of patent law is critical to take advantage of its full protections. Patents can be pretty complicated, as even court decisions often have nebulous statements, such as the one that describes "anything made under the sun by man" as being patentable. Understanding some of the more important topics in patent law can at least give you an idea of the topics, problems, and situations that come up and must be dealt with.
5 Requirements for Getting a Patent
There are five major requirements that an invention or plans for an invention must pass before that idea can be patented. The idea can't be obvious. In other words, it can't be something that everyone already uses or can't be an obvious step to everyone in the field the patent is being filed in. The subject matter must be patentable as defined by US law. No laws of nature, new philosophical theories, or abstract ideas. The patent must be for something that is useful. The item in question must also be new. It cannot be something patented by someone else in another country, or for an item or idea already commonly in use. Finally, a fully detailed plan of enablement must be included. Enablement details what the item is, how it is made, and the process used to do so.
What Can or Can't Be Patented?
There is a very broad definition for what can be patented. As of 2010, federal patent law stated that an idea, process, or invention was patentable as long as it was: "Any process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or improvement thereof." According to the Supreme Court, specific things that cannot be patented include anything that falls under abstract ideas or philosophies, the laws of nature, or physical phenomena. The broad definition for what can be patented is necessary, since inventing is by its nature the creation of something new, which therefore wouldn't otherwise be covered by laws passed before that item was invented.
Federal Patent Laws in the United States
There are no state patent laws. Patents are a federal matter, which is why topics of importance in patent law are decided by the federal courts. A patent grants the holder the sole and exclusive right to develop the patented invention, and legally prevents others from making, using, or selling the patented invention. Patents are not like copyrights. They do not last a lifetime, and vary in length from 14 to 20 years depending on what is being patented, with an extra five year extension available for the development of a new drug. Otherwise, patents can expire, and so while a patent is very important, it's not a life time protection like copyright law is.