The Road to a Patent

Do you have an exciting new invention? You will want to protect it from others, and consider obtaining a patent for it. A patent will stop other people from making, selling, or importing your wonderful new invention. After your invention is patented, only you will be able to do these things. However, obtaining a patent does not excuse you from complying with any other laws or governmental regulations that may apply to your invention.


First, it is important to document your invention with a “start date” so that you have information to help you if someone contests your patent after you file it. The “start date” will help determine who, in fact, was the first to develop the invention. After this, you might want to consider conducting a patent search to make sure that no one else received a patent for the same idea. While this is not mandatory, a patent search is a good idea. Some people also conduct an international patent search at this time. A computer search may not be enough because it will not cover all of the patents that have been issued since the U.S. Patent Office opened.


In order to file for a patent, you will need to provide several documents, including drawings of your invention and its technical specifications. You can also file for a provisional patent. This will enable you to use the term “patent pending,” and permit you to go through the final development stages or raise capital for one year before filing for a non-provisional patent. Or you can skip the provisional step and opt instead for a non-provisional patent. It will take somewhere between one to three years for the United States to issue a patent. Remember, if you file for a patent for United States, your invention will only be protected in the United States. In order to protect your invention in other countries, you must apply for an international patent.


How long does a patent last? It depends on the type of patent you obtain. A utility patent, or a patent that covers how an invention functions, lasts for twenty years after its filing date. You might be able to get an extra year on a utility patent by filing a provisional patent first. A design patent, or a patent that covers the design appearance of an invention, lasts for 14 years from the date of the patent's issue. A plant patent, or a patent covering a new asexually reproduced plant, will last 20 years after the date the patent was filed.

As with others questions involving complex legal issues, it is wise to consult a patent attorney to get expert assistance on your patent.

By Laura Evans           

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