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Patents 101

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)issues an inventor of a product proprietary rights to the design and/or idea of that invention. A patent is intellectual property. It is not a copyright, trademark or a service mark.

U.S. patents are usually good for a 20-year term. The beginning date is based on the application date for the patent. In some cases, the 20-year term can be extended or adjustments made.

Patents come in three types:

  • Utility
  • Design
  • Plant

Utility patents are for any invention of a machine, manufactured or composed piece of matter, a "new and useful" process, or any "new and useful" improvements to any of the previous.

Design patents are for ornamental designs that are new and original creations. They are generally designs for a manufactured item.

Plant patents are for a new variety of plant that was either invented, discovered or asexually reproduced.

While you can patent new methods or ways of doing business, business ideas themselves are not patentable. For instance, you cannot patent a new restaurant, online business idea, franchise, chain or stores.

Patents are publicly exposed and once issued, the USPTO does nothing to enforce the patent laws. However, in case of litigation over ownership of the intellectual property, the patent is evidence that the patent holder owns the rights.

People steal other people's ideas all the time. That's why if you have a good idea or something you have created, you should patent it before anyone else has a chance to copy it and claim ownership. Keep in mind though that patent applications can sometimes be very involved, so having a patent attorney complete the process for you is suggested.

Source: Entrepreneur, "How Small-Business Owners Can Patent a Great Idea," John Ramptom, accessed Feb. 01, 2018

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