Source: Department of Commerce, Patent and Trademark Office.
A patent, in the most general sense, is a document issued by a government, conferring some special right or privilege. The term is now restricted mainly to patents for inventions and, occasionally, land patents.
The grant of a patent for an invention gives the inventor the privilege, for a limited period of time, of excluding others from making, using, or selling a certain article.
In the United States, the law provides that a patent may be granted, for a term of 20 years from the date of application, to any person who has invented or discovered any new and useful art, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, as well as any new and useful improvements thereof. A patent may also be granted to a person who has invented or discovered and asexually reproduced a new and distinct variety of plant (other than a tuber-propagated one) or has invented a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture, for a term of 20 years and 14 years, respectively.
A patent is granted only upon receipt of a complete, regularly filed application and the appropriate fees, and upon determination that the invention is new, useful, and, in view of the prior art, unobvious to one skilled in the art. The disclosure must be of such nature as to enable others to reproduce the invention.
Patents are not granted for printed matter, for methods of doing business, or for devices for which claims contrary to natural laws are made. Applications for a perpetual-motion machine have been made from time to time, but until a working model is presented that actually fulfills the claim, no patent will be issued.
A complete application, which must be addressed to the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks, Washington, DC 20231, consists of a specification with one or more claims; oath or declaration; drawing (whenever the nature of the case admits of it); and filing, search, and examination fees. Most fees are reduced by half if the owner is a “small entity”; that is, an independent inventor, a small business concern or a non-profit organization. The fees are not returned to the applicant if the patent is refused. If the patent is allowed, other fees are required. Phone 1-800-786-9199 for the latest fees.
Beware of Illegal Patent Services
It is illegal under patent law (35 USC 33) for anyone to hold himself out as qualified to prepare and prosecute patent applications unless he is registered with the Patent Office. Also, Patent Office regulations forbid registered practitioners advertising for patent business. Some inventors, unaware of this, enter into binding contracts with persons and firms that advertise their assistance in making patent searches and preparing drawings, specifications, and patent applications, only to discover much later that their applications require the services of fully qualified agents or attorneys.