The Definitive Guide to Patents

A patent is an exclusive right given to the inventors by the government to protect and safeguard their invention for a limited period of time (usually 20 years) and allows them to stop others from making, using, selling, and importing an invention without their permission.

In other words, a patent provides the owner of the invention, the exclusive right to stop and prevent others from commercially exploiting the patented invention for a period of time decided by the respective government of that country.


Like any other property, a patent can be bought, sold, rented, or licensed.

It is to be noted that the patents are territorial rights which means that if you get a patent in the United States, you will get the right to stop others from using and importing your invention in the United States only.

Let us understand this in another way: you get patent protection in the country where you got the patent, so if you want to protect your invention outside of your country of residence, then you must obtain patent protection in that particular country.

Types of Patents

In the United States, the patents are of three types:

  1. Utility patent – A utility patent is a patent that covers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.
  2. Design patent – A design patent is a patent that covers a new design for a product and is granted for ornamental features and not for functional features. An example of a design patent is the design of a chair.
  3. Plant patent – A plant patent is a patent that covers newly invented strains of asexually reproduced plants. An example of a plant patent is the Smooth Angel rose plant.

Patent Application Process

Your patent application is pending as long as it is not granted by the patent office. During the pendency of the patent application, the owner of that patent for which application has been filed can inform others that a patent is in the pending stage. However, the owner does not have the legal right to stop others from using his invention.

It is not a good idea for anyone to infringe upon a pending patent because when the patent gets granted, the owner of the patent can claim potential damages that would have accumulated during the period the patent was in a pending state.

Types of Patent Applications

There are two types of patent applications: 1) Provisional patent application; and 2) Non-provisional patent application.

A provisional patent application just acts as a placeholder and is mostly used to establish a priority date. A provisional patent application never gets examined by the patent office.

After the filing of the provisional application, the inventor gets one year’s time to work on his invention and file a non-provisional application (we will explain this in the next paragraph).

There are many benefits of filing a provisional patent application such as it costs less money, a simple description of the idea with at least one claim is needed and provides a priority date, etc.

A non-provisional patent application is the main patent application that can be granted into a patent.

This application gets examined by the patent office and requires a detailed description (specification), drawings, a set of claims, an abstract, filing fee, and an oath or declaration, ADS, etc.

Parts of Patent Application

So the main parts of a patent application are specification, claims, drawings, and abstract.

The description i.e. specification is part of the patent application which gives a detailed way of how the invention works.

It contains lots of text along with drawings to describe the invention. It is the requirement of the patent office that the patent application should be described in such a way that a person of ordinary skill in the art can easily understand the invention and make and use the invention.

Claims are the heart of the patent application and define the scope of the invention. There are two types of claims: Independent claims and dependent claims. A claim basically describes what the patent does cover and does not cover.

Drawings are basically the figures that show how the invention looks and works. They are included in the specification. All the drawings must show all the claimed elements of the invention.

An abstract is a short summary of the specification and is required in a non-provisional application.

When your patent application is ready for filing, you can file it either electronically or by going to the patent office.

After filing the patent application, you will get a filing date which is also known as the priority date of the patent application.

Your patent application will be examined by the patent office with respect to the patentability criteria of novelty, usefulness, and non-obviousness.

The patent examiner assigned to your application will go through the patent claims and will do a patent search for finding relevant prior art. If he finds any prior art, then you will receive office action from the patent examiner.

You will need to file a response to this office action within the time limit. If the patent examiner is satisfied with your office action response, he will allow your application for the grant.

In case, he is not satisfied with your response, you will receive another office action. You will need to respond to that office action.

If the allowance is received, then you will need to pay the issue fee. After the payment of the issue fee, your patent will be granted.

After that, you will need to pay maintenance fees at regular intervals for your patent to remain active.

In case, you don’t pay the maintenance fees, your patent will get abandoned and you will lose the patent rights to stop others from using your invention/product.

So now you are aware of what a patent is?

Let’s go through some of the questions and answers which will give you complete information about patents.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) with Answers on Patents

What is a Patent?

An exclusive right granted to an inventor for a limited period of time to monetize his invention.

How long does patent protection last?

Patent protection is usually granted for a period of 20 years in most of the countries from the filing date of the patent application.

Is a patent valid in every country?

No. Patents provide territorial rights to stop others from making and using your invention in the country where you have sought patent protection.

What is the benefit of obtaining patent protection?

The benefit of obtaining patent protection is to get the legal right to stop others, who does not have your permission to make, use, offer for sale and import your product where you have sought patent protection.

Who can apply for a patent in the United States?

A patent may be applied only in the names of the actual inventors.

Who can apply for a patent in India?

A patent may be applied in India either by the “true and first inventor” of the invention or an assignee or legal representative/heir(s) of the “true and first inventor”.

What are the 3 types of patents in the United States?

In the United States, there are three types of patents namely utility patents, design patents, and plant patents.

Can an idea be patented?

No. You can’t patent an idea for an invention.

What is the most common type of patent in the United States?

In the United States, a utility patent is the most common type of patent. A utility patent is given for processes, compositions of matter, and machines that are new (novel) and useful (industrially applicable).

What is a poor man’s patent?

A poor man’s patent simply means mailing a description (specification) of your invention to yourself in order to authenticate a date of invention for you by the post office.

What is the first patent in the United States?

The first patent in the United States was issued to Samuel Hopkins on July 31, 1790, for a process of making potash which is an ingredient used in fertilizers. This patent was signed by US President George Washington.

Why are patents issued?

Patents are issued to enable the owners of the patent to exclude others from making, using, selling, and importing an invention for 20 years in exchange for publicly disclosing his invention.

Which country has the most patents?

China has the most number of patents – approximately 1,542,002 in the year 2018.

What is an example of a patent?

Cellphones, TVs are all examples of a patent.

Do patents expire?

Yes, patents do expire. Patents usually last for 20 years from the date of filing the patent application as long as you are paying the maintenance fees. If the owner of the patent is unable to pay the fees on time, then the patent will get lapsed.

Who issues patents in the United States (US)?

United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issues patents in the United States. After receiving the patent application they examine it and if it meets the patentability criteria, they grant it and the patent gets issued.

What is a patent database?

A patent database contains millions of patent documents from around the world. It helps in getting the information on a patent that is not readily available using other means of searches.

What are some free patent search databases?

Some of the most popular and free patent search databases are Google Patents, Espacenet, USPTO PAIR, Patentscope by WIPO.

What is a patent search?

A patent search is a search conducted to find prior art references that are relevant to the invention. A patent search is usually done using patent databases.

What is prior art?

The prior art can be anything that is very similar to your invention and is in the public domain whether patented or not patented. It relates to any technical information that exists before the effective date of a patent application.

What is the most important part of a patent?

The claims are the most important part of a patent document as they define the boundary or scope of the invention.

How long does the patent process take?

The patent process on an average takes 2 to 3 years and this time varies on the various types of patent applications.

So that is all about patents.

I hope you really liked this information about patents.

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