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Patent law protects inventors by granting them exclusive rights to make, use, and sell their invention for a specified period of time. When applying for a patent, you'll want to be aware of not only the basic points of patent law but the application process itself and how to protect your invention(s) along the way.

A Basic Overview of Patent Law

U.S. patent laws were established by Congress in order to protect the discoveries of inventors. For an invention to receive a patent, it must be considered novel, useful, and not of an obvious nature.

Four general types of inventions qualify for such "utility" patents. These include machines, human made products, compositions of matter, and processing methods. Specific additions have been made to the Patent Act to help account for technology and our ever-changing concept of what designates a human made product. These additions also provide for design and plant patents.

Prior to 1995, patents were generally issued for a seventeen-year period, with the term measured from the date of issuance. However, an amendment prompted by the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property now makes patents valid for twenty years, with the term measured from the date of application.

The Patent and Trademark Office is the government agency responsible for administering patent laws. If a patent application is rejected, the inventor may appeal the decision to the Patent Office's Board of Appeals.

The Application Process – What to Expect

When applying for a patent, many novice inventors want to know what they can expect. The most common questions revolve around cost, the length of time involved, and whether or not it is necessary to hire an attorney.

- How much will it cost me to file an application?

While there will be maintenance fees once the patent has been issued, a filing fee generally falls between $400 and $1,000, depending on the number of claims in the application.

- How long will it take to prepare my application?

As with so many other aspects of law – and life – the timeline depends on your specific set of circumstances. Though as a general rule, while patent practitioners are accustomed to preparing patent applications in a hurry when necessary, it is always better to allow plenty of extra time for obtaining additional information and making revisions.

- Do I really need an attorney in order to apply for a patent?

Many inventors find an experienced patent attorney quite valuable during the patent application process. Qualified patent attorneys can assist with claim language and often help the inventor appreciate all the “inventive” aspects of his/her creation.

However, it is possible to apply for a patent yourself. In fact, there are several informative books on the subject such as Patent It Yourself from Nolo Press. If you're planning to pursue your patent application without an attorney, you'll probably want to read up on the topic beforehand.

Protecting Your Product – Avoiding Illegitimate Invention Development Companies

It is important to protect your invention during the patent application process. One major way to do so is to steer clear of untrustworthy invention development companies. Warning signs might include:
  • The company offers to prepare a “provisional patent application” or an “invention disclosure document” rather than a complete application.

  • The company offers to publicize your invention in a newsletter (which is often published by the company and may not be regarded with care or interest by any of its recipients).

  • The company suggests that its main service to you will be providing you with a list of "leads” that you should contact about your invention
  • .

By Lindsay Rech           

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