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US Patent - Online Advice

US Patent - Online Advice

US Patent applications

The US patent and copyright laws are written into the Constitution - Article II, to be exact. Patents last for 20 years and are applied for through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). A patent is basically a government-based reward to encourage new and useful ideas, and the American people have come up with many millions of them.

Indeed, utility and novelty are two of the three basic tests the US patent office applies to each request for a patent. The third is non-obviousness - whether the invention could have easily been thought up by someone else with a reasonable level of skill in the field. It sounds simple enough. But like many other simple-sounding things, it is of course extremely complicated. Utility is perhaps the least difficult - it can be any reasonable conceivable application of the invention. Novelty is also relatively simple, although it could involve a lengthy patent search to make sure that your idea has not already been patented or published (in what is called the 'prior art'). If it has, it does not mean that all is lost - it might be just a question of some relatively minor rethinking to make your idea new again. Non-obviousness, or innovation, is where the skill and the need for an original idea comes in. There are also different kinds of patents. In the US they are divided into the categories of 'utility' (which covers most patents), 'design' (the aesthetic presentation of a variety of manufactured objects, from cutlery to clothes) or 'plant' (plants which are developed through human skill i.e. by grafting or cuttings).


Within these basic parameters are a wealth of complications which are - unless you are positive you want to go it alone - best discussed with a patent attorney or agent. The latter can advise and help you with many aspects of the process, but you will need the former to draw up the application itself, particularly the claims section. This part outlines what in the invention is unique and not to be imitated by others and must be couched in very carefully thought out legal language.

Certain kinds of application will receive special treatment. To take an obvious one, an invention with a military use might be refused foreign patent rights by the US patent office, although compensation could be offered. In a different vein, there are certain conditions which bring an application to the top of the pile - among them are the advanced years or imminent death of the inventor or an ecological application for the technology. For more information about every aspect of US patent applications check the website of the patent office at www.uspto.gov. For some tangible reading material try Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks for Dummies by Henri Charmasson.