In the year 2005, the USPTO (US Patent and Trademark Office) has granted 165,485 patents, out of which 151,079 are utility (inventions) patents, 13,395 are design patents, and 816 are plant patents. This means that almost nine out of every ten patents granted fall in theUTILITY PATENT category.
Such a patent (also called patent for invention) is issued for a new, useful process, machine, manufactured item, composition of matter, or any improvements in any of these articles. The patent grant allows the patentee exclusive rights that prevents others from making, using, or selling the invention for a period of up to 20 years from the date of application. Some salient features of utility patents:
- The patentee has to remit mandatory fees periodically for patent maintenance, i.e. to enforce legal protection and safeguard its exclusivity.
- The length of utility patent protection (patent term) was, till 1995, seventeen years from the date of patent grant; however, after 1995, utility patents enjoy a patent term of up to twenty years from the date of filing of the earliest related patent application.
- The term of a patent can be extended under certain circumstances.
- Usually, the inventor applies for the patent, and exceptions are allowed in rare cases, (insanity / death / refusal to apply).
The following points serve as guidelines for a potential utility patentee.
- Ensure that the idea is not a law of nature, a physical phenomena or an abstract idea.
- If it is a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work, it can be protected by copyright, but not patented.
- Ensure that the idea has a useful purpose and can be implemented by realistic means.
- Ensure that the idea is novel, not obvious, and also not immoral or illegal. A professional ‘prior art' search of existing records will help you.
- Satisfy yourself that it is possible for a competent peer to also make the item and use it.
- Ensure that you can fully describe the idea or invention in black and white.
Only the inventor can apply for the patent. There are some exceptions -- if the inventor is dead, insane or refuses to file and is under contract to others.