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What are patents and does my invention need one?

As an inventor or business owner, you probably are constantly innovating and trying to establish your position in your industry. While it may be tempting to hurry to file for a patent of your latest creation, there are parameters that the invention must meet in order to be patentable.

What is a patent?

In basic terms, a patent provides legal ownership and protection to a product’s creator. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is responsible for reviewing and granting patents as well as trademarks and copyrights.

Not everything can gain the protection of a patent, though.

Criteria for patent eligibility

The first consideration is whether or not your invention is patentable. The main classification is that the item has to be something that is useful and isn’t an obvious invention. It also can’t be something that has already been invented. Things such as a machine, way of producing an item or something that has been manufactured.

As far as what cannot gain a patent:

  • Works of art such as paintings, works of literature, theater or music
  • Ideas
  • Laws of nature
  • Natural phenomena involving physics
  • Things that aren’t useful
  • Things that are morally offensive publicly

What are the types of patents?

The categories for patents include:

  • Plants: This type of patent applies if you propagate a totally new variety of a plant asexually or discover a new plant.
  • Utility: If you develop a new production process, machine, composition of matter or manufactured item, this patent type applies.
  • Design: These patents are for something that you produced with a special configuration or surface appearance.

Available resources

The Inventors Assistance Center (IAC) is available to clarify questions about the patent application process or filling out forms, but they cannot provide advice on whether an invention can get granted a patent.

Additionally, the United States Patent and Trademark Office also has information available on its website answering common questions or providing further definitions.

So do I need a patent?

Without filing for a patent, there is no simple way to determine if your specific invention that meets the basic criteria can be patented. While you are in the process of reviewing and planning for a patent, it’s important to treat your invention as though it is indeed highly valuable. That means not sharing the information with those outside your team or organization in the meantime.