Continuing our discussion on Intellectual Property and your business, today's blog is about Patents. If you've not read our introductory blog on Intellectual Property, CLICK HERE to review it to get a general lay of the land.
In general, Intellectual Property deals with creations of the mind. Intellectual property can be divided into a few distinct subcategories, Patents being just one.
What is a Patent?
Definition: Rights, granted to inventors by the federal government that permit them to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention for a definite, or restricted, period of time.
In effect, if you've invented something that could either be easily reverse engineered, or copied, and a Trade Secret won't do, a Patent could be for you! There are two primary types of patents; Utility and Design.
Do I Need a Utility Patent or a Design Patent?
Are you trying to protect how something is used or how it works? Or, are you trying to protect how something looks? Utility patents protect the way something is used and/or how it works (e.g. creating a chemical), whereas design patents protect the way something looks, such as the Coca Cola bottle design.
How long will my Patent last if I register?
Patents are NOT the same as Trademarks or Copyrights. In addition, not all patents are the same! Generally speaking, the durations are set as detailed below. However, there are certain factors that could lead to additional protection.
Utility Patents = 20 years
Design Patents = 14 years
What does registration look like?
You may have heard that patents take a long time to get approved, and that is true! Patents can take years to get approved because of the back and forth between the inventor (or the Inventors Attorney) and the USPTO office.
USPTO.gov contains a variety of information related to registration. However, it is not recommended that you embark on this process without a properly licensed attorney. Once a patent is issued, you must enforce the patent without aid of the USPTO.
Another little known fact is that not every attorney is permitted to handle Patent cases. An attorney desiring to prosecute patents must pass a specific Bar Exam known in the legal community as the PATbar. This bar exam has separate qualifications from your traditional state bar exam. One qualification includes a bachelors education or higher in a "recognized technical subject".
Should I Even Register for a Patent?
Whether you want it to or not, if you Patent your idea, your idea becomes public knowledge. Though protected, this protection doesn't last forever. For example, a drug company publishes a specific chemical compound that they've proven to be effective against a certain disease. Once awarded a patent, the formula is now public knowledge for the scientific community to use and learn from. Though it is protected, it wont be protected forever. This has the effect of forcing inventors to make the most of their invention in a timely manner.
Some things aren't patented. Think about the ingredients/formula for KFC fried chicken, or Coca Cola. These have been Trade Secrets for years! The respective companies take extraordinary measures to ensure that their exact formulas will not become "public knowledge". We will discuss Trade Secrets in a future blog.
At St. Augustine Law Group, we don't practice patent law, but we know some great attorneys who do! If you are just looking to get information about what category of intellectual property protection might be right for you, feel free to Contact Us today! If we can't help, we will connect you to someone who can!
Credit to Scher Guzzo for the creation of the infographic, and assisting in the drafting of this blog post.