What is a Patent?

Patents grant inventors the exclusive right to make, use, or sell their inventions for 20 years.

However, not every invention is suitable or worthwhile for patenting. Understanding patent basics can increase the likelihood of approval.

In this article, we will cover what is a patent and other things you wanted to know about patents.

Let’s get started.

What Is a Patent?

A patent, an intellectual property form granted by the government, provides inventors exclusive rights to their invention for up to 20 years.

This prohibits others from manufacturing, using, or selling the invention without permission.

What is a Patent

Patents require a public disclosure of the invention’s technical specifications.

Securing a patent involves submitting an application with claims outlining the protection level.

In the U.S, a provisional patent application secures a filing date, giving an additional year for a formal filing.

Patents, as assets, can be traded or licensed and patent holders can sue infringers.

Upon expiry, the invention becomes public property for commercial use without infringement.

U.S patents apply only within U.S territories.

The patent system encourages unique, useful inventions, promoting societal advancement.

History of Patents

The history of patents began in Ancient Greece where unique culinary creations could receive a year of exclusive rights.

However, the first statutory patent system originated from the Venetian Patent Statute of 1474 influenced by silk-making monopoly laws in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. These Venetian patents inspired other countries to establish similar protection systems.

History of Patents
Source: Wikipedia

In England, early grants in the form of letters patent were issued to inventors, providing them with a monopoly to produce specific goods or services.

This practice evolved into the modern patent system, a pivotal legal foundation that spurred the Industrial Revolution.

However, the system was also abused, leading to the Statute of Monopolies (1624) limiting patent grants to original inventions for a fixed term.

The 18th century saw vital legal interpretation, with patents applicable for improvements on existing machines and abstract principles.

The English patent law influenced countries with a common law heritage, including the U.S.

The U.S. passed its first Patent Act in 1790 which underwent major revision in 1836, establishing a more rigorous application process.

The French patent system was established in 1791, revised in 1844 to reduce costs and abolish importation patents.

The U.S. Congress passed its first Patent Act in 1790 to promote innovative arts. The first patent was granted to Samuel Hopkins for a potash production method.

The Act underwent significant revisions in 1793 and 1836, introducing a rigorous application process. About 10,000 patents were granted by 1836, reaching 80,000 by the Civil War.

Types of Patents

Patents an integral aspect of intellectual property are classified into three types: utility patents, design patents and plant patents.


Utility Patents

Utility patents are, the most prevalent form and are awarded for novel and useful machines, chemicals, or processes.

They furnish in-depth technical details about the workings of the new system or process.

Examples include diverse inventions such as brooms, computers and pharmaceuticals.

Utility patents offer a robust protection form for 20 years.

Design Patents

Design patents safeguard the ornamental exterior or unique design of a functional product.

The object should have a beneficial, innovative design.

This patent type has famously protected the original Coca-Cola bottle design.

Design patents last for 15 years.

Plant Patents

Plant patents shield inventors who have generated unique plant varieties through asexual reproduction methods like grafting.

Examples of plant patents include novel rose varieties or unique corn strains.

Plant patents, granted least frequently, also protect for 20 years.

Each of these patent types has distinct eligibility requirements providing specific protection for diverse inventions and therefore play a pivotal role in fostering creativity and innovation.

Basics of What is Patentable

Patent law protects innovations falling under three categories: utility patents for new and useful processes, machines, or matter compositions; design patents for original, ornamental designs for manufactured articles; and plant patents for distinct, new varieties of asexually reproduced plants.

For patent issuance, an invention must function, have a clear making/using process, be novel and not be an obvious alteration of an existing invention.

Restrictions apply to phenomena like laws of nature, abstract ideas, nuclear-related inventions and mere suggestions.

An invention is novel if it differs from existing inventions and has not been publicly used, sold, or patented within a year of patent application.

An invention is non-obvious if it is unexpected or surprising to an expert in the field.

Patents can also be granted for a product, composition, machine, process, or an improvement on these if they are new, functional, inventive and non-obvious.

How to Apply for a Patent

Securing a patent involves researching the Patent and Trademark Office’s database to ensure uniqueness, meticulously recording the invention process and preparing documents (abstract, drawings, descriptions, IDS, claims) along with an oath confirming authenticity.

How to Apply for a Patent

Unlike copyrights, patents aren’t automatic; the inventor must apply within one year of public disclosure.

Prior to application, a preliminary patent search is advisable to evaluate feasibility.

The application and fee are reviewed by a patent examiner. If granted, a publication fee is required and the patent is made public.

Only licensed patent attorneys or agents with specific qualifications may prosecute patents.

Utility and plant patents are valid for 20 years, while design patents last 15 years.

Non-payment of maintenance fees can lead to early expiration.

After expiration, the invention becomes available in public domain.

Examples of Patents

Some of the most notable patented inventions include:

  • Garrett Morgan’s traffic light, patented in 1923
  • Thomas Edison’s light bulb and phonograph
  • Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone
  • Maglev train system
  • King C. Gillette’s safety razor from 1904
  • Wright Brothers’ airplane.
  • Philo Taylor Farnsworth’s television, patented in 1930
  • The internal combustion engine
  • Steve Jobs’ personal computer, patented in 1980
  • Bluetooth technology, patented in 1994 by Jaap Haartsen
  • FireEye Malware Protection System, patented in 2005.

Patent vs. Trademark vs. Copyright

Patents, trademarks and copyrights are legal protections for intellectual property.

Patents protect inventions, processes and scientific creations for a period, usually 20 years, barring others from unauthorized use or reproduction. They are issued in exchange for public disclosure of the invention.

Trademarks, including logos or phrases, distinguish specific products or services, aiding in the brand’s image and reputation. They have indefinite protection as long as they’re in use and defensible.

Copyrights safeguard original works of authorship, including literature, visual arts and software, preventing unauthorized reproduction. Copyrights last for 70 years post the author’s death, with exceptions.

In summary, patents guard novel inventions, trademarks identify and protect branding and copyrights protect original creative works.

It’s important to understand and respect these rights, which are critical to innovation, brand identity and creative expression.

Patent FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q: How long does a patent last?

A: Patents for utility and plant last 20 years, design patents last for 14 or 15 years, depending on when they were filed.

Q: What are the criteria for an invention to be patentable?

A: An invention must be new, involve an inventive step and be capable of industrial application.

Q: Who is responsible for enforcing patent rights?

A: The patent owner typically enforces patent rights in court, although the court can also stop patent infringement.

Q: Which entity grants patents?

A: Patents are granted by a national or regional patent office.

Q: Can the term of a patent be extended?

A: Some countries do allow patent protection extensions or Supplementary Protection Certificates in specific cases.

Q: Are patents valid worldwide?

A: No, patents are territorial rights and are valid only in the country or region where they were filed and granted.

Q: What are the three types of patents?

A: The three types of patents are utility patents, design patents, and plant patents.

Q: Can a granted patent be challenged?

A: Yes, the grant of a patent can be challenged in a court of law or via a patent office.

Q: Why are patents beneficial?

A: Patents encourage further innovation by providing incentives for competitors to invent around existing inventions.

Q: Who can apply for a patent?

A: The inventor or their legal representative can apply for a patent, with certain exceptions.

Q: How do you define intellectual property?

A: Intellectual property refers to creative works or ideas that can be shared or recreated.

Q: What are the four types of patents?

A: The four types are utility, design, plant, and provisional patents.

Q: What happens if an invention is not patented?

A: If an invention is not patented, competitors can use the invention without needing to seek permission from the inventor.

Q: Is it necessary to have a patent attorney to file a patent application?

A: Although applicants can prepare their patent applications without assistance, due to the complexity of the process, it’s advisable to seek help from a patent attorney.

Q: What rights does a patent provide?

A: A patent gives the right to stop others from using the invention, or to license or sell the invention.

Q: What does licensing a patent mean?

A: Licensing a patent means the patent owner grants permission to another individual or organization to use the patented invention.

Q: How can patents be obtained globally?

A: Although a universal “world patent” or “international patent” does not exist, an application for a patent must be filed in each country where patent protection is desired.

Q: How much does patenting an invention cost?

A: The cost varies significantly depending on the country and the complexity of the invention.

Q: Why is patenting an invention beneficial?

A: Patenting an invention grants exclusive rights, helps return on investments, provides licensing or selling opportunities, increases negotiating power, and creates a positive image for the company.

Q: What constitutes patent infringement?

A: Using a patented invention without permission constitutes infringement and can lead to lawsuits.

Q: What does “patent pending” mean?

A: “Patent pending” indicates that a patent application has been filed but not yet granted.

That’s it for this long post on patent, what it is and how it works.

I hope this was useful to you and helped you to understand patents better.

Check out our other articles on Patents below.

Also Read:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *