Intellectual Property Rights in the US

For inventors with a great idea, filing a patent application is the only way to protect their intellectual property rights in the US.  In the United States, there are three types of patents including design patents, plant patents and the most common type, utility patents.   In the US, Inventors and companies that produce ideas enjoy some of the richest laws in the world.  Many of the world’s ideas come from the United States.  One reason this is true, is that the person or people who actually develop the idea reap the rewards.  These ideas, also known as intellectual property, have made many inventors very rich.  U.S. laws protect the rights of the original people involved with development of the intellectual property.  Money does not really matter when it comes to who had the original idea.  Just because an investor helps fund someone’s idea, does not make them an intellectual property owner eligible for ownership of the patent.  They must actually contribute brain power to the idea.  Of course there are some exceptions.  Investors can contract others to specifically develop a patent and companies own their employees patents if development of ideas is specifically in their job description.  In all other cases, the inventor must transfer ownership to someone else to claim the patent as their own.

Types of US Patents

  • Utility - Includes products, processes, machines, compounds or mixtures; also includes the category of  improvements on previously approved patents.
  • Design - ornamental shapes and designs
  • Plants - related to farming or horticulture - the development of new plants

Once a patent is approved, the holder has exclusive rights to produce, use or sell their intellectual property for a specific amount of time.  In the U.S., the inventor who holds a utility patent enjoys this exclusive time period for 20 years from the filing date.  You can see why those with money and resources, spend a great deal of effort hiring patent attorneys to push the idea through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for approval.  Time literally is money.  If it takes several years for the U.S. Patent Office to approve the idea for exclusive use, this time is lost in the market.  For a design patent, the time period is 14 years from the date granted.

If you have ever seen the phrase, “U.S. Patent Pending” on a product, there is a reason.  In the U.S., inventors and companies that produce inventions have some special privileges, compared to the rest of the world.  Production, licensing, and use of an invention is possible for up to one year until granting of the patent is required.

Things To Do Before Filing a Patent Application for an Idea

  • Does the idea qualify for a patent award?  First, it must pass the simple test to see if it is an idea or a discovery.  When Issac Newton first discovered the concept of gravity, it was an original thought, but it was not exclusive to him.  Gravity is a scientific principle that all people can use.  Had Mr. Newton designed a pulley system to take advantage of gravity, his idea would be patentable.
  • Is the idea something that can be made into a product?  After all, the concept of a Federal Office to authorize patents is to promote business.  The US government wants inventors to receive royalties for their original ideas, but they also want them to make products, improve living conditions, and create new business opportunities. 
  • Document the idea discovery and development.
  • If the intent is to sell a product or lease rights to produce, consider the sales or royalties.  Make sure the cost of the patent is warranted by the return.
  • Last, perform a patent search including a patent infringement study. 

Tips for Small Companies or Individual Inventors

Small Companies, non-profit companies, and independent inventors hold a special place with the USPTO.  In an effort to help small businesses and individual inventors get started, the Federal government has several noteworthy benefits. 

  • First, the filing, issue and maintenance fee are all reduced by 50 percent.  
  • The USPTO has many different programs to reach out to small companies and individual inventors.  This included training, webinars, podcasts, phone contact, road shows, and more.
  • There is a dedicated mailbox for this group.
  • There is a guarantee to review and approve or not approve the application for patent within 1 year.
  • It is possible to receive an interview with the patent examiner before submitting the application.